Capybara stampede my arse.

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"Will we see giant anteaters?"

"Sure."

"Will we see armadillos or large herds of capybaras?"

"Sure, sure."

"Jaguars, pumas or tapirs?"

"Maybe at dusk or dawn, but it's much more difficult."

"Giant river otters?"

"Sure."

I'm in the Pantanal, another of my "must visit one day" places (I first heard about the place when reading John Grisham's "The Testament" many years ago). A huge wetland and pampas like area shared between Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. A natural paradise with a tiny human population but a giant feeding ground for wildlife. It supports about 650 bird species and 80 mammals, and is supposed to be the best place on the continent to view wildlife. At least it got the highest density.

My Norwegian friend, Alf Kåre, and I flew to Campo Grande (one of the three gateway cities to the Pantanal) from Rio, and we are getting pretty excited about what the tour company salesman got on offer. We understand that this isn't a zoo, and that he cannot guarantee us any wildlife sightings. At least we understand that jaguars, pumas and tapirs are extremely unlikely. But this is the Pantanal and he sounds pretty convincing. So we sign up for a four day trip. It's an eight hour drive or so to our camp. We are heading north-west into the Pantanal, starting with a decent paved road before gravel, sand, mud and water take over completely. There's quite a few animals to see along the road, like capybaras (the worlds largest rodent), coatis, alligators, maned wolf and rheas (a ratite bird in family with the ostrich, emu and cassowary). Hey, this looks promising! I don't even bother to take any pictures, as I am sure we will spot much more on our nature walks or when going horse riding. We arrive at the camp late at night, and find about 25 other tourists at the dinner table. Mostly young backpackers, but also some older couples. There's people from all over, Ireland, Germany, Israel, Chile, Italy, Canada, Japan and Ingeborg from Odalen in Norway to name a few. Wow, Odalen, about an hour from my hometown.

We rise early in the morning on the second day. Dawn is a good time for a wildlife walk. But there's little water around in this part of the Pantanal, mostly it's grassy pampas and small clusters of forest. A bit different from how I imagined it, but then the Pantanal is a huge area and it doesn't all look the same. How are we going to spot any alligators or capybaras here? We walk around for a few hours, and although it's a nice enough walk, the wildlife is a bit disappointing. Except there's lots of birds, including toucans, macaws, rheas and impressive jabiru storks. But we want to see heaps of mammals and reptiles. Capybaras, giant anteaters and armadillos at least. But we only spot a few coatis and deer. And tons of feeding cattle, very exciting! We return to camp and go piranha fishing later in the afternoon. Similar to the Amazon I catch none, and find it rather boring. Wading in water and mud to my chest, to try and catch a tiny piranha. You guys pay for this? Stupid tourists, I am sure the guides and locals think. Late that night I get fever and a cold, as well as a Delhi belly out of this world. I have to run to the toilet six or seven times in the middle of the night. Back in the hammock and I immediately have to run to the toilet again. I haven't had anything like it in years. I stay in bed the whole next day, while Alf Kåre and some of the other guys go horseback riding and on another nature walk. The wildlife spotting is similar that day, except they see a few monkeys and armadillos. I want to see an armadillo! I am not much company that evening, but feel a bit better the next morning. So I decide to join another horseback riding team. Alf Kåre joins as well. We look desperately for the giant anteater, but spot none. But luckily we see four armadillos and a few wild pigs. We return to camp, and that's it. The tour is over. Alf Kåre claims he enjoyed it although he hoped to see more animals. I partly enjoyed it as well. But I had huge expectations for the Pantanal, and since I also got sick it didn't really help.

It's all part of traveling. When you enjoy traveling as much as I do, you constantly hear about new and exciting destinations you want to visit. You build yourself a huge list of "must visit one day" places. And the more you travel, the bigger the list gets. Then you create an image of what the place look like or how it will be when you finally get there one day. Rarely the place is how you imagined. Sometimes it exceeds your expectations, and sometimes you find it a bit disappointing. And for the Pantanal I must say that I hoped for a bit more. But as I said, it's a huge area and I am sure there's other spots with excellent wildlife viewing in the Pantanal. Been there, done that!
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