Update - Pantanal, Corumba and the Death Train!

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
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Trip End Aug 16, 2006


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Friday, March 17, 2006

Hello Everyone,

Its been a really hectic week since my last update, done loads of things, I´ll try not to make this too long...
We set of from Campo Grande last Saturday (11th) heading for the pantanal which is a massive wetland area teeming with wildlife. The journey was 4 hours in a minibus then 3.5 hours into the pantanal on a jeep. The jeep ride seemed like 12 hours long as you had to constantly hold onto the side to stop yourself falling out the back! We arrived at the camp in the evening tired, dusty and hungry. Sleeping was in a line of hammocks surrounded by mosquito nets which did nothing to keep the buggers at bay! Our group of 9 (4 english, 1 scot, 1 israeli, 1 norwegian & 2 dutch) was introiduced to our guide for the next 3 days Levi who was a native from the pantanal region. The next 3 days consisted of various activities.
We went on a walk through the jungle on the first day where we came across a group of 5 alligators (see photos) I took a really good video of them but I think its gonna be too big to download so you´ll have to wait till I get back to see it.
Next day we did piranha fishing which involved standing waist deep in water holding a rod in one had and pieces of cows heart in the other. Problem was that when you tried to put another piece of heart on the hook you invariably dropped a bit in the water an were immediately surrounded by a swarm of hungry piranhas. Luckily they didn´t seem to like the taste of humans! I ended up catching 3 but two had to be thrown back as they were too small to eat which we did later that day. Nights in the Pantanal were rather uncomfortable, it was very hot and uncomfortable in the hammocks and you got woken at 5.30 every morning by a cacophany of sounds the loudest of which was a group of howler monkeys. We also randomly bumped into the lads from Cheltenham we met in Rio and another bloke from our first hostel. So far I think we´ve met about 6 or 7 people from previous hostels again which is bizarre when you think about the size of this place.
So after some more walks, swimming and horse riding (yes I`ve overcome my fear)we took the long jeep ride back to the main road on the edge of the pantanal and we left to wait for a bus to the border town of corumba.
Two hours later we were in Corumba checking into another hostel with a swimming pool after fighting off a large group of people at the bus station trying to get us to come to their hostel. Corumba was a quiet wealthy little town which we were shown around at night by the guide from our hostel, this including going into a Ju-jitsu gym and watching some fights, quite surreal really!
The next day we got up early and tried our best to avoid our hostel guide as he was intent on selling us train tickets to Santa Cruz for 3 times the normal price. Once we had our exit stamps from Brazil we caught a bus to the Bolivian border still with guide in tow and went through immigration. After changing our Reis into Bolivianos we took a taxi to the town of Quijarro a few miles into Bolivia where we were to catch the death train. I should say we were now 6 people as we had joined 2 spanish and 2 english girls in corumba. We arrived in Quijarro to find the only train of the day was leaving in 20 minutes and we still had to buy water and tickets. After one last ditch attempt to sell us slightly more expensive tickets our guid left us and we got tickets for about 9 pounds each after initially being quoted 25.
The train arrived and we took up our seats in first class, which was not really comparable to first class in england, although the seats were ok and reclined quite a way. The journey took 22 hours in total across the Bolivian pantanal stopping about every half hour. Sleep was practically impossible due to the noise the train made and the contant shaking. To add to that at every big stop the carriage became inundated with Bolivian children selling every conceivable food and drink, from big bags of limes to jelly to pots filled with meat, rice and various indistinguishable vegatables. It seemed to be a contest as to who could shout what they were selling the loudest. We finally arrived in Santa Cruz sweaty, smelly and tired and glad we didn´t have to hear another child shouting ´LIMONE!!!´ in your ear every 30 minutes.
We went with the Lonely Planet´s advice on a cheap hostel and ended up at a lovely place with a coutyard filled with various exotic plants and two friendly toucans (a video of them fighting should be attached!).
Its now our second day here and although its very pleasant there isn`t much to do in the town so we´ll be moving on to another place closer to La Paz most likely tomorrow. We also need to get to somewhere higher to start acclimatizing to altitude as it´s not wise to go straight to La Paz which sits at 3600m above sea level. One thing that is very nice about bolivia is that is its considerably cheaper than Brazil and for a good meal with one drink you don´t normally pay more than a pound. Hopefully this will enable us to recoup some of the budget we overspent during carnival!

Its siesta time now so I´d better go and get some kip! Take care all, keep those emails coming and I´ll speak to y´all soon

James
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