A Taste of Brazil, Corumba and the Pantanal

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Feeling a bit sluggish after our 14.5 hour train trip from Santa Cruz, Bolivia we shed a few clothes to cope with the humidity of the border town...and politely fended off the local tourist touts.

We found the Spanish a bit difficult to understand there, a natural blend of words and accents combined from Spanish & Portuguese. A banana milkshake and a pastry or two later and we felt ready to face the delights of Brazil.

Another easy border crossing, but we were a bit shocked to find out that we had spent 29 days in Bolivia. Apart from enjoying ourselves so much and not realising the time had gone - we also discovered we had only been given a 30 day visa on entry. Two days later and we would definitely have been contributing to the immigration officialīs social fund.

Had a chat on the Brazil side of the border with a motorbike taxi guy - he was out of luck on the work as our large backpacks would have tipped his bike backwards but he was still happy to chat and confirmed our first impressions of Brazilians as a very sociable bunch. Armed with a few Portuguese words from the mototaxi man, we arrived in Corumba and began to speak Spanuguese, Portanish or Sportuguese - not sure how you would describe it, but we got the message across and that is the main thing.

Corumba is a nice-enough town, very hot with lots of white-washed buildings. Not somewhere you would go as a destination in itself, but handing for resting and recharging.

As usual, our stomachs were the boss and after checking into a cheap and cheerful hotel with jail-cell ambience we hunted down a Brazilian all-you-can eat lunch buffet. We werenīt disappointed withe the food - similar to Bolivian food, but with a little more variety and a great salad. One of the first salads we had seen for a while that went beyond lettuce, tomato and onion. This one had spinach leaves and water cress - things we hadnīt tasted in nearly a year!

Painlessly organised a trip with Indiana Tours to a nearby region called the Pantanal, famed for wildlife viewing. Bought some essentials like mozzie repellent and tried a famous Brazilian cocktail called a Caiparinha -weīd tried them in London, but it didnīt compared to the kick of this one, made from local, cheap firewater. Later, arriving back to the hotel the atmosphere was subdued due to the plane tragedy in Sao Paulo, relentlessly played on the communal TV.

The next day, fortified with the first of many excellent Brazilian breakfasts (fruit, juice, bread, cheese, pastries, tea, coffee), we went off the the shops to buy a replacement cap for Ed. Unfortunately for him, the locals must have smaller-sized heads because Edīs only choice was a Biggie Boys cap, a  local skater-boy brand all in black with a skull and cross-bones. Guess Iīd better get used to it. Ed asked the girl in the shop if it was a gang-member brand because he wasnīt keen on fighting. She laughed, probably to get the sale...

Four hours on the bus later and a bloke in a ute picked us up to take us to our lodge on the river in the Pantanal region. During the handful of kilometres from the main highway, we had seen a giant Jaibaru stork, crocodiles, numerous birds and a brilliant green iguana.

Typically, our accomodation doesnīt quite live up to the pictures we have seen but the setting on the banks of a wide river, full of wildlife and the good food definitely made up for it. Went fishing late afternoon and saw our first sighing of a Capybara (giant guinea-pig type animal), truly one of the cutest and most content animals I have ever seen. Apparently he is too big to be worried by the large crocodiles (caiman) slinking around. I catch a beautiful fish (Dorado) and Ed catches a nasty little catfish which he throws back. Eat our fish that night in the communal dining area and meet a lively trio from Macau who weīll be heading out and about with over the next three days.

The next day is beautiful weather and we head off on a jeep safari with the Macau bunch and an Irish trio who were less than impressed with the amount of wildlife in their room the night before! The Pantanal is odd because on the one-hand it is a series of huge cattle farms interspersed with remnants of tropical forests and lots of water (dependent on the season) - essentially fully developed - yet with one of the highest concentrations of wildlife you will see anywhere. For example, during the course of the day we saw:

Capybara, fish, caiman, Jaibaru Storks, kingfishers, macaws, giant otters, deer, parrots, howler monkeys, coatimundis (racoon-like creatures), herons and much more. Just from the side of the jeep as we drove past.

Luis, our guide spoke good English and was really informative. He showed us fish jumping out of a shallow, muddy pond for oxygen which apparently in the dry season can exist in the mud for 30-40 days. He also played with some ants running up-and-down a tree-trunk - just forty bites needed to kill someone. The indigenous people years ago used to tie their enemies up to these trees...nasty ending.

Ed ends the afternoon obsessively photographing hummingbirds right outside our room. We also found out that the capybara running around our stilt-house accomodation had been rescued off the road with a broken-left, lying next to his dead mother. He is free to come and go but seems quite happy with the company of us humans.

Next day - EDīS BIRTHDAY! 37 years old and he doesnīt look a day over 45.

We headed out on horse-back for a couple of hours. Like most horse used for trekking these guys seemed to have lost the will and spirit to be much fun. A lot of our entertainment came from the Macau bunch giggling continuously during their first horse ride. A pleasant-enough morning through the open, flat grasslands.

After lunch was our boat trip where Luis guides us very close to large black crocodiles which we at first find terrifying but later in the trip we are more used to them. Lots of wildlife all around and we pull up on a sandbank as the sun is setting for a spot of piranha fishing. Luis has the skills and just pulls them out of the water every time on his meat-baited hook. We have a go too with some success and Ed pulls out the granddaddy of them all. Their rows of teeth are vicious, even after you catch them they will snap off a large twig if you place it near their mouth. Fed the ever-closer crocodiles with the piranhas too - really good fun.

Beautiful sunset and we took the boat back in the dark - able to shine the torch on the glowing crocodile eyes nearby. A birthday beer with the birthday boy rounded off a memorable day.

Next day, just a spot of piranha fishing from the bank, more photographing of hummingbirds, playing with the contented-looking capybara and a bus ride off to Bonito.

The Pantanal is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area!
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