Birds, Bugs and Bogs

Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
1
26
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Trip End Sep 05, 2006


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Flag of Brazil  ,
Thursday, March 23, 2006

We have just returned from a 3-day, 4-wheel adventure in the Pantanal, a wetland that is half the size of France. The rainy season lasts from December to March and the place fills up like a bowl of cornflakes with small splotches of land between the bogs. Our plan was to drive 100 miles into the Pantanal to a small fazenda (ranch) that was being run as an ecolodge. After the exchange of several emails with the proprietor, we were under the impression that the drive was difficult but doable with a good 4-wheel drive vehicle.

At the beginning of the drive there is a small gas station, restaurant and ecolodge. We filled our tank, our spare gas can and several plastic bottles of fuel. (Brazilians do not use gas cans. If they need to carry gas, they will simply reach for the nearest plastic container and fill it up. We had 3 extra 5-liter jugs of gas strapped to the back of the Jeep.)

It had rained heavily the night before we left and the road was particularly muddy. After 50 km it was apparent that I had misestimated our mileage in mud (the EPA doesn't rate mud mileage) and we would not have enough gas to get there and back. We decided it would be prudent to return to the gas station and scrounge some more containers. The next morning, we left some of our luggage at the ecolodge and strapped another 40 liters to the Jeep. At this point we had more explosive potential than an Iraqi suicide bomber. Fortunately, we were slightly more likely to be hit by a meteor than to be rear ended by another vehicle.

As we headed back onto the 'road', I felt like a 10-year old boy playing in the mud. If we hit a particularly large puddle, the mud would fly over the windshield and we were quickly covered. Cool...

Unfortunately, at this point I forgot that I really didn't know much about driving a Jeep in deep mud. (It seems that boys either learn about these skills in high school or they never get learned. I spent my high school leisure time playing cards in my prep school dorm. This probably strikes many of my readers as a totally useless endeavor compared to practicing driving over and through various objects. Don't judge too quickly. One of my card-playing classmates went on to be a top 5 poker player and now has his own tv show and poker school. His was not a misspent youth.)

Due to my youthful overemphasis on cards, I entered one bog in the wrong gear and we were quickly stuck. To make it even worse our winch had been improperly stored and now would not work. These were both major operator errors.

Just when things were looking bleak, we saw the first (and likely only) vehicle of the day, a flatbed truck carrying supplies back to a fazenda. The experts were here and quickly towed us out. Kia insisted that I closely follow the driver so that I could learn from someone who knew what they were doing. Honey, thanks for your support.

We drove through the countryside for another 60 km stopping briefly at a couple of fazendas along the way. The driver kept looking at us like we were a couple of crazy gringos and that we would never make it to our destination. I thought I was getting the hang of this mud thing so we pressed on (though still following the rancher). Finally at about 4pm we reached a fazenda where the proprietor, Eduardo, spoke a little Spanish and also did not mumble. He insisted that the water was over a meter deep ahead, that it was impassable and that we needed to spend the night with him.

Eduardo radioed the ecolodge and we heard a similar story. The recent rains made the drive impassable and we should stay put. They also told us we were their first guests who had ever tried to drive in during rainy season. The usual route was via airplane. I guess we actually were a couple of crazy gringos.

Eduardo and his wife were wonderful hosts. They fed us a delicious dinner and breakfast and arranged a guest room. Their fazenda is 100,000 acres and they raise 20,000 cows. They manage this with only 20 workers. Basically, the cows just roam around like part of the wildlife and every year Eduardo harvests about 10% of the poulation and lets the remainder continue to breed. This strategy works only when there are not many predators that eat slow moving cows. This is bad news for jaguars, and we saw a couple of photos from jaguar hunts on Eduardo's walls.

Other than jaguars, the native wildlife is both abundant and stunning. Personally, I have never been particularly interested in bird watching. I made an exception in the Pantanal. My favorites were the jabiru, a four foot high stork with a red neck and black head. Kia loved watching the several varieties of macaws (big parrots). We also saw rheas (small ostriches), flocks of parakeets, a toucan (think ´froot loopsc), many hawks and a variety of egrets. The wildlife was also special. There were two species of caimans (alligators), raccous howler monkeys, deer, and what Brazil claims is the world's biggest rodent, the capivara. (I guess they don't know about Ken Lay down here.)

The next day we headed back out again following the truck which was making a return trip to town. It had rained more and again I managed to get stuck due to (a different) operator error. Fortunately for my ego, a local was also stuck in the same bog and we spent a couple of hours extracting everybody from the mud.

The pantanal seems like a special place. It is not easy to get to or to visit. It is very hot and humid. The mosquitoes travel in giant squadrons. By the middle of each day you are covered in a sticky combination of sweat, sunscreen, bug juice and mud with a high content of malodorous methane. The resulting scent, Eau de Pantanal, tends to be a significant impediment to conjugal relations. Despite this, I want to go back to visit one of the ecolodges deep in the pantanal to learn more about the birds and wildlife. Next time we will fly.

The area seems a strong candidate for habitat trusts, of the type done by the Nature Conservancy. The land is frequently flooded and not much use for anything besides cattle raising. I suspect it could be purchased fairly cheaply. Conservation International has done one of these deals (ex. Fazenda Rio Negro) and I hope more are done over time.
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Comments

tanya66
tanya66 on

Mud Mud Mud
looks like it was fun for a while, and plus you still have your sense of humour, a good sign.

LOVE the photos on this entry. Dom insists the large rodent creature is a tapir...maybe the same thing?

And no, I wouldn't swim with caimans and pirahnas about...yikes!

See you in Peru! 5 more weeks! Cool!

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