Bonito – an afternoon with the fishes

After our ‘near death experience’ on the drive to Bonito, we settle into the HI Ecological Hostel for some much needed sleep. I’m not sure what exactly is ecological about it except that they separate their recycle but it’s a nice enough place with some good communal areas and a pool, although the rooms are a little dingy. Still, since there is little to do in Bonito itself and the hostel is located a little out of town it makes for a friendly place and everyone is swapping experiences of the various tours on offer.

The tours are not cheap mind, so we opt for just the one, the reason we have come to Bonito in the first place – Rio da Prata.

Rio da Prata

To be honest, we hadn’t even heard about Bonito before we came but had a recommendation from one of Rich’s mates via Facebook. The river is situated over a natural spring, with the minerals from the spring making the water incredibly clear and very buoyant. Starting at the top of the river, you snorkel downstream, allowing the river’s natural flow to carry you. Of course, there are plenty of fish to see along the way.

Big yellow fish (with teeth)

We can’t get a tour for the first day that we are there as they are already fully booked so we put our names down for the day after and decide what to do with our free time. There are plenty of other tours on offer, including alternative snorkelling trips, a cave tour and for the really adventurous some abseiling into a cave (VERY expensive and requires a few days of training) but we opt for some chill out time in the hostel instead, catch up on blogs, get some washing done and have a dip in the pool.

If you are looking to explore town, the best way to do it is by hiring a bike. There’s not much in Bonito itself but the Municipal Pool is supposed to be lovely. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were there as there had been heavy rains but we certainly heard some good things from others at the hostel. It’s not a pool as you might imagine – rather a clear stretch of river full of fish and lined with grass and a few restaurants.

not sure i will keep picture online

The next morning and it’s up bright and early to head off on the 55km journey to Rio da Prata. We arrive at around 10.30am and although we are originally told our group will be starting at 11.30am, they then change it to 1.30pm. No big deal for us as the sun is shining and there are plenty of hammocks to relax in but it certainly infuriates some of our companions. Still, it’s not so bad as a huge buffet lunch is served at 12pm followed by a selection of incredibly sweet desserts which all seem to consist of pure sugar. And then, when the heavens open and it starts to pour with rain, all of a sudden everybody seems glad that we got the late spot after all!!!

By the time we set off, the weather has cleared up again and we are all, summoned to put on our wetsuits (very fetching indeed). Despite the hot weather the water is pretty chilly so you definitely need one. Snorkels and lifejackets are also provided and we’ve rented a waterproof camera from the hostel, quite pricey at 35R (around £15) but definitely worth it – if you can arrange to share the cost with someone else then I’d recommend it – most of the photos will be of fish anyway!

We start with a practice run at the top of the river – we are instructed to make the minimum disruption possible so are not allowed to stand on the bottom or splash our feet. To be honest, because the water is so buoyant, and we are wearing lifejackets, it takes very little effort at all, we just let the water carry us and use our arms to steer ourselves. Even some of the less confident swimmers in our group manage with no trouble at all so there’s no need to be a strong swimmer – as long as you are not a complete novice you will be fine.

As we put our faces into the water we see we are surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of fish – big, small, blue, silver – tons of them! Of course, this is a freshwater river so they are not as colourful as you might get when snorkelling in ocean reefs but they are stunning nonetheless. And as we drift downstream we catch sight of a very special visitor – an otter – which definitely causes a lot of excitement amongst the group.

We continue to float downstream, watching the fish and playing with the camera until we reach a point where you can clearly see the spring bubbling up from under the sand at the bottom of the river – it’s like seeing a mini underwater volcano. We stop for pictures and for people to dive down and touch the spring, although the water is so buoyant it’s quite a challenge and only a few people manage it!!! Then it’s off snorkelling again until we reach the bottom of the stream where it meets a much wider river. Sometimes you can snorkel down this part too but when we are there the water is too cloudy and the current too fast so we walk back through the forest to meet our waiting truck which will drive us back to the lodge.

Rio da Prata (with fish)

A great day was had by all and seeing the otter was definitely a highlight. On the drive back to the hostel we saw some more wildlife – this time an anteater snuffling his way through the fields. Another one to check of the list!

Back at the hostel we managed to find ourselves a cheap flight from Campo Granda to Rio to save ourselves a 22 hour bus ride. It’s definitely worth checking flights as the buses aren’t that cheap here in Brazil and sometimes you pay pretty much the same price to take a plane. The only downside was that we’d have to double back on ourselves if we wanted to go to Ouro Preto but that was still only 14 hours on a bus in two separate journeys compared with 22 hours in a single stretch!! Brazil is a big old country and you don’t realise how long it takes to get everywhere and how much it costs before you get here.

Anyway, after another lazy day at the hostel it was off to the airport, there is loads to do here but not on a budget. We picked the best of the bunch so it’s Rio – here we come!!!!