The Pantanal – caimans, capybara and caipirinhas

I’d not really heard about the Pantanal until we set off on this trip. For those who are as in the dark as I was, it’s a huge wetland (swamp or bog to me and you) created from the run off from the Planalto highlands, about the same size as England! A bucket load of animal and birdlife have made this place their home and that’s what we’ve come to see. The problem is we’ve come at the wettest and worst time of the year. So fingers crossed.

The gateway to the Pantanal, when arriving from southern Brazil, is a town called Campo Grande. There is not a whole lot to do, although, apparently, the night-life is pumping if you can find it. We decide not to stay at the tourist hostel near the bus station and book a local place in the centre of town. As is often the case on our travels it starts raining like fury, and within a few minutes the streets around central Campo Grande are flooded. Grabbing some street snacks we bolt to our room, catch up on some sleep and treat ourselves to a healthly dose of Family Guy on the laptop.

The Pantanal

We are making our way to a place call Pousada Santa Clara, a farm located a respectable way into the Pantanal (it seems it’s a boasting matter how far in you venture). We get a lift to the bus station from the tour agent we booked through and then set off on the five hour journey along the BR 262 highway. We jump off at Buraco das Piranhas, in the middle of nowhere, where a Jeep is waiting to take us and a few other tourists off to Santa Clara.

It’s a 45 minute teeth rattling ride along the Estrada Parque road deep into the Pantanal. Our fears of not seeing anything are quickly eradicated as we spot caimans (alligatorid crocodylians! like crocodiles but a bit smaller), black vultures (feeding on a dead calf), quatis (raccoons with pointy noses), capybara (the world’s largest rodent), lizards and deer all along the road. Excellent stuff.

Toucan

At Santa Clara there is plenty more wildlife with a resident boar called Marisa, a grumpy parrot and a couple of macaws who roost in a nearby tree. We also came across a large water cobra which casually appeared on the lawn one afternoon.

Water Cobra

The farm is comfortable, with a choice of rooms, dorms or camping and all meals are provided. We spend the first night getting to know our companions over some excellent caipirinhas whilst being eaten alive by mosquitoes. We make friends with a couple of girls from England (one is Portuguese so she acts as our translator for the stay) and an Indian guy and by bedtime we are all nicely sozzled. I’m also pleased to find out that the staff are Spurs fans, something Leah’s not too happy about, especially when Arsenal get knocked out the Champions League that night!!!

Group at Santa Clara

At the break of dawn (well 7am)  we are up and off horse riding. Leah’s not ridden before but before long her horse is almost under control and she even manages a few gallops.

Me, on a horse

The Pantanal is flooding fast so when we venture out into the bush it involves some passes through deep water, an experience I think I will be reminded of this for the next year every time I smell my walking shoes. In the afternoon we head out on the Jeep further into the Pantanal along the Estrada Parque, stopping to spend about an hour walking deep into the bush along the water’s edge. We spot more capybara, a boar and a moody caiman protecting it’s nest as well as howling monkeys and a variety of others, I forget which flavour. They were cute and all very monkey like. We also see a couple of tiger tarantulas whilst in the Jeep. I was lucky enough to jump out and take a few shots before the fellas ran away.

Walking in the Pantanal
Tiger tarantula

The next day we get a boat down the river which is a welcome relief from the mosquitoes (I counted 30 bites on my back alone). The wildlife here mostly has wings – toucans, kingfishers, and the jabiru stork, symbol of the Pantanal. There are a few monkeys in the trees but they are not performing and just stare at us. I have time for a quick swim in the river, but the water is orange and visibility only about a foot so I keep it short . I’m sure I felt things slip around me a number of times, but kept my mouth shut as I wanted Leah to join me. Note – We are Prihana fishing in this same river tomorrow.

Monkey
Pantanal Swim

Whilst we spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool (really more of an outdoor bath) the German couple from our lodge take a walk into the bush with our guide. The rising flood water meant that their walk soon became more of a swim and they returned with water marks up to their chests!!

Day three and it’s time for some Piranha fishing. Sadly, we didn’t manage to catch anything, although our guide did get one and fed it to a caiman on the bank. Myself and Leah missed the whole thing though as we were trying to get Leah’s hook out of a tree – she not a natural fly fisherman. The only other person that managed to catch anything was an English girl called Fiona who landed a caiman – show off!!

Caiman - legging it

If you come to Brazil and have time, add the Pantanal to your list. If you come in February or March you will probably not see a jaguar. You will however see mosquitoes in the thousands, they are an issue. Having said that, we had fantastic weather, with sun everyday and temperatures rising to over 35, and we saw loads of wildlife. So don’t be put off coming around the same time, we certainly were not disappointed, and met some great people too – hope the mosquito bites have calmed down girls and thanks for the photo swap Shrikant!!

Next is Bonito, a small town with a few incredible attractions. We are told the bus may not be going due to flooding but we head out nonetheless. It was an interesting journey to say the least. First we were held up as cowboys herded cattle along the road (the waters are rising so fast they are racing to move the cattle around almost daily). The second part of the bus journey is through a field, really, the bus driver actually stopped, got out and opened gates and closed them behind him. By this time it’s pitch black and the road is submerged under about a foot of mud with the river encroaching on either side. For nearly an hour the bus was skidding crazily from side to side and several times we nearly come off the road. The poor driver was battling hard and I was fully expecting to spend the night in the bus but we got lucky and made it. We heard later that they stopped the bus route the next day…

Sunset at Santa Clara