After a surprisingly restful 14hr train ride, we arrived this morning in Puerto Suarez, on the border between Bolivia and Brazil. It is 0900 and already hot and sticky.
We jump into three cabs to the actual border crossing, where we then walk across into Brazil, and change our bolivianos for reals on the street- best exchange deal, apparently!
Then it's another minibus for the three hour trip into the Panatanal, the largest inland swamp in the world...larger than France! It is considered to be the best area of it's kind for viewing wildlife...right now, the dry season, is the best because it is easier to walk into the Pantanal. In the wet season, three rivers flood this massive alluvial plain, and make it difficult to access. We are now in the Mata Grosso do Sul area of Brazil, which also encompasses the lower part of the Amazon Basin.
After a very bumpy ride over the dirt roads and wooden bridges spanning this area, we arrive at our 'fazenda' or ranch where we will stay for the next two nights, aka the 'hammock hotel'. This is a long bunkhouse style building, kitchen/dining area in fron, and a long open room with a bunch of hammocks in back! Screened in to try to keep out the bugs, of course. There is also quite a modern bathroom outside- four showers and four toilets, they have doors but otherwise are 'al fresco'; we found that we shared them with a number of frogs and other critters. It is sweltering out- feels like 35 C and 100% humidity. There is a mad dash for the showers, and for the first time this trip, I can't wait for a really COLD shower!! We all end up showering at least three times a day while we are here, just to keep cool.
We pick our hammocks and rest a bit, then at 1630 our Pantanal guide Max takes us for a hike...we are wearing boots to protect us from the critters and plants- he is barefoot!
We see a caiman, toucans, egrets, howler monkeys, macaws, coatis (co-awtie), capybaras (world's largest rodent-looks like a beaver the size of a big dog), tons of other birds...I can't possibly describe everything here. It was difficult to get pics too, as the animals move so fast, and some were too far away for a good shot.
We make our way back to our bunkhouse at twilight- it is dangerous to walk in the Pantanal after dark, as a lot of the larger predators are nocturnal, ie pumas and anacondas! After another cold shower and a typical Brazilian dinner, we relax for a bit until the generator goes off at 2130-lights out!
I am awoken in my hammock at 0510 by Max's foot prodding me- it is time to get up for a morning hike into the Pantanal- the animals are most active at this time of day. Don't they know I'm not?? Anyway, I am surprisingly rested after my hammmock sleep. We leave as the sun is coming up, and get to see much of the same wildlife we saw yesterday..but there is definitely more noise and activity this morning. We hear and smell tapirs (small mammals) moving about in the low jungle (they stink!!) but only catch a glimpse as they run away. We walk for two hours through the dawn mist and dew, then it's back for breakfast, before our piranha fishing trip at 0830!
We walk to a fishing hole about 15 min away; Max has brought bamboo rods with simple line and hooks. A few of us fish from the shore, while others go out in a small boat...then we switch. Three smaller caimans float nearby, hoping to maybe catch something we throw back...?? I cast unsuccessfully a few times, then pull something out of the water- I thought it was a piranha at first, it definitely had little teeth! Turned out to be a piraputanga...oh well. Max caught a piranha, and there were a few other piraputangas and catfish caught also.
By 1030 the heat was becoming unbearable, so we headed back to the ranch, and lazed in the outdoor hammocks for the afternoon. Later when it started to cool down a bit around 1630, we went for a horseback ride through some of the trails and swamps- I guess the horses don't know there are caiman and anacondas living in the swamps...?!? It was a nice way to see the Pantanal though- quieter than ten people trampling through. We returned just as darkness fell, then it was dinner time and another cold shower.
After dinner, Max started a campfire outside, and we sat out under the clear sky. I definitely had a strange sensation that I was on an episode of 'Survivor: The Pantanal'! It was such a nice night, four of us decided to stay out under the stars- grabbed my sleeping bag liner to keep the bugs off, and we fell asleep by the fire. Intermittently, one of us would wake up and put another log on, and scan around with a flashlight for any reflective animal eyes on the approach! I was also amazed by the amount of animal and insect noises, a symphony of sounds, like a wildlife city!
I awoke around 0400 and the sky was already lightening, and you could hear the howler monkeys in the distance...they all set up this throaty noise that sounds like roaring, quite distracting! By 0500 the morning colours were streaking across the sky, and you could feel the heat coming with the day.
We have to leave the Pantanal today- our minibus is here to take us to our next destination, Bonito.