I'm not a jockey!
Trip Start Sep 02, 2010
23Trip End Sep 30, 2010
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Where I stayed
Fazenda Santa Clara
Bolivian / Brazilian border. As it was so early the weather was cool and pleasant and as we were there before the border opened we were at the front of the queue.
I suppose now would be a good time to come up with some observations of Bolivia.
We had heard that it was very cheap – and on the whole it was – unless you wanted to buy a western product – and then it was more than at home, e.g. a Cadbury’s chocolate bar or a Kit Kat. Unlike in Peru – as we have had less time and not explored cities so thoroughly
we haven’t had the opportunity to try Bolivian food – it doesn’t seem to be so prevalent
– unlike in Peru. Overall, we both like Bolivia – it has a huge amount to offer to
a tourist – the downside is that we just haven’t had the time. I would definitely come back and do the Salt Flats, although every tourist goes there –everyone has without fail said that
it is incredible.
OK, so back to the day. We queued at the border and when it opened had a very hassle free crossing. Most of the time we were waiting for it to open I got to interrogate
Bernt on how his shooting safari works. On instinct I’m against such things – but being reasonable it is quite afascinating occupation running such a place. I learnt for instance that it costs about 4000 euros to shoot a leopard on his ranch. It seemed a little strange that he was so enthusiastic to see a jaguar in the Pantanal.
Anyway, on exiting Brazilian immigration we met the tour company person – the Tour Company
was Indiana Tours, which with some research before we left seemed like the best
option and with reasonable reviews. The chap made us wait for a while whilst he went looking for some other tourists he was supposed to meet and who never turned up. We got in his car and went to the bus station in Corumba which was where their office was. It was a bit of a
surprise to see that there were no other tour companies in the bus station and no one approached us – so I don’t think we really had much of an option than to go with them. It also seemed like very few tourist were coming from Bolivia through this border. We were pretty much the only ones that morning.
The Tour company was run by a Swiss woman who, according to Ryan looked ‘small and
crusty,’ she could have made a great caricature of an unfortunate looking middle
aged fraulin. She sorted us out and her underling who was the young man who picked us up at the border took us to change money and to an ATM. Generally he seemed a bit of a plonker and really unprofessional by the number of childish giggles, general nonsense and face pulling he kept doing.
After trying eventually to get some money out of the Brazilian ATMs (not enough if
turned out), we coughed up the tour cost and back at the bus station caught a public bus for about an hour and a half into the Pantanal on a main road. Even from this fast tarmac road we could see the huge number of birds and some swamp as well as the occasional dead cow next
to swamp. We got off the bus and were greeted by a wave of humid heat and clambered into a 4x4 heading to the Santa Clara Fazenda where we were to stay the 3 days in total.
The 4x4 turned off onto the Estrada Parque road – one of very few roads that attempt to
traverse the Pantanal. It is dirt track with almost 100 little wooden bridges – usually over swamps filled with caiman. Santa Clara was about 20 bridges into the road and we arrived to be greeted by a large and rather muscular man called Alex, who was to be our guide but also seemed largely to be running the place. I was secretly hoping to get a nap or something but he informed us we were going to be going on a horse ride in about an hour, straight after our lunch. Ryan wasn’t terribly happy as he doesn’t like horse riding very much.
To my relief I seemed to be giving quite a nice pony. I normally end up with the short, fat stumpy one that doesn’t want to go anywhere. Ryan instead ended up with that one! My pony had a rivalry with Alex’s and so was quite happy suddenly breaking into a bit of speed to try and match the leader – which considering I’m a rubbish horse rider, meant I got to wobble all over the place. Alex looked rather ridiculous with his cowboy hat and chaps and he generally behaved like he though he was in a Western or something – although to be fair, he clearly knows how to ride a horse. Generally it was a nice horse ride and we also saw some monkeys, fox and hyersinth macaws. There was a bit of excitement when my horse decided it was going to run off with me on it. I was concentrating staying on and it just went faster and faster until I was galloping across the land and Alex was screaming ‘pull the reins’ – which I would have done if I wasn’t holding on for dear life. Eventually I seemed to find my feet and enough of a rhythm to use one free hand and pulled it to a halt (albeit whilst managing to direct the horse almost into a bush), where Alex said that I had scared him half to death and I felt a bit naughty, if not a complete adrenaline rush. Ryan somehow managed to miss my moment of extreme drama which was sad!
Santa Clara is a rather commercial and well developed lodge so it doesn’t have the personal feel of the smaller outfits (talking from experience when I did the Pantanal 4 years before and stayed with a family). But there are clearly advantages as the trips were better organised and there were better facilities and meals. The people we were with were also an
interesting and nice bunch of people. There was an Israeli and French couple, both on honeymoon and an American couple, as well as Bernt, and everybody was my age. It was a little odd as the last time everyone was my age was at university and it felt a bit like an alternative get together and I could see what other people were doing with their lives by my age but also with the interesting nationalities thrown in.
When we go back from the horse ride everybody was walking funny and we had dinner. It was perfectly adequate although the pudding was a bit non-existent. Ryan and I messed up with the ATM’s in town and didn’t bring any spare money. So I keep looking mournfully at the ice
creams and cold drinks but can’t have any L. In the evening, the others started getting their caiperinyhas and relaxing, but after our bus ride and activities we are shattered and with a 6.30 am start tomorrow it is time for bed and a shower (complete with frog in it).