Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Pantanal - The Brazilian Wetlands

Foz du Iguacu bus terminal, Brazil.
After a long day in the falls and birds park, I rush to see if my ticket (which I already bought back on the Argentinian side - and turned out to be cheaper?!?) is really good and worth something. As I`m talking (half Spanish, half English) to a only Portuguese speaking ticket salesman, I`m bothered by a fat, Semi-Hebrew speaking local, rubbish-talking something about ''what about a trip in the Pantanal''. I try to wave him off (cause I`m trying to understand the Portuguese spoken to me on the other side, but he won`t budge...
Knowing the only option to get rid of this guy is to start listening, I do. Turns out he is the guy Oren.Lilya told me about (Ecological Expedition is the name of the company), and I should book with him, so I do.
After a too long ride (all in Portuguese - an awful language if you don`t understand it) to Campo Grande, I`m picked up to a hostel (owned by Ecological Expedition), where I found out that Oren.Lilya just left 15 minutes ago to the airport (and headed to Salvador Bahia), But the good news is - they left me a jar of NUTELLA! Thank you! you made my first breakfast in Campo Grande a heavenly one!
30 minutes pass (me eating breakfast), and my long lost bearded friends Dror & Alek step down from their room. A very nice surprise. They left the same day, and I decided to rest one day (on the companies expense), in the very comfortable hostel.

The deal was 4 days, 3 nights in the Pantanal.
The first day was waisted on the ride to the campground. 5 hours in total, 3 in a van, 2 on a jeep. The cross Pantanal road is strait. Very strait. After a while, we (A squealing Irishman, 2 British girls, 3 Ausi`s, a Dutchman and I) did not know if there`s going to be an end to the drive. But we got there.
In the campsite we met the guides and the family that is about to cook for us the same dinner, breakfast and lunch (dinner and lunch being the same), for the rest of the trip. We were also introduced to our hammock hut. 10 Hammocks in a large hut semi proof to mosquitoes (which means - not at all).
During our awaiting for our first dinner, arrived yesterday's group. Dror & Alek shouting my name out loud...
Dinner was good (although the others didn`t think so), 3 days ago chicken, rise and salad.
Every day (split into two), we would go out to a different expedition (a walk, truck ride, horse ride, boat ride, Piranha fishing & night safari). Every activity showed different views of the beautiful Pantanal.
Every night I was grateful for the mosquito-net I brought with me from Israel, and carried from 3 months all around Chile and Argentina. But it didn`t help during the day, I was eaten alive.
The first day was only walking safari, but it was a great first experience in the jungle. The guide (Max), knew his job very well, and could spot any animal from a mile away, just by hearing its feathers, sounds, running on the treetops.
Sadly, in my opinion (and the animals` as well), we were too many people. 10 altogether (the two girls (slept in a hostel near by - the more expensive option) switched with two boys from Manchester). We still managed to encounter lots of animals, but from a far. Max said they are all drying off from yesterday`s rain (on the high tree tops). We closed the day in a night safari (a ride on the truck, back to camp, while Max was searching for animal eyes with a very strong projector). We only saw a fast fox, who was running in the lights anyways. The cool thing was to watch the eyes of the Caymans turn red from the light.
The second day we took a truck ride (a big ass jeep) on the main road (yes the same one we came from, but further north), which gave us the opportunity to see far away areas we have not yet seen. Rivers filled with Caymans (a small kind of Crocodile). Apparently, there are about 4 million of them around the Pantanal, and they are a great dish for every kind of animal you can think of (from the big Jaguar, to the big Stork). Even Otters eat juvenile Caymans. Sure makes you fear them a lot less. During the ride, with passed (twice), local cowboys, moving a herd of 500 cows through the Pantanal.
The evening tour was in a boat. At first the engine wouldn`t start (which helped the others bitch some more), after that, we went on the most successful safari yet! Maybe all the animals live by the waters? Kingfishers, Capibara`s (the largest rodent on earth) and much more exotic animals flew all around.
And lets not forget the unsuccessful Piranha fishing (I heard, and saw pics, of some groups that caught 8 Piranhas!), we caught nothing. Made me think about not trying to fish ever again.
The Last day (Dror & Alek already left, so it wasn't as happy), we went for a horse ride. I enjoyed every moment! Max hurt his leg on the first 100 yards, so we were just with a young guide, who let us do whatever we liked with the horses. I wanted to run, my horse loved me for it. I Cantered and Galloped my way through the really wet lands... Didn`t see too much animals, but it was still really fun.
The other half of the last day was dedicated to getting out of the Pantanal. I ended up waiting with the most annoying 3 Israelis (yet), an hour, for the bus to Corumbà, and from there (still with the girls, but with a very nice English couple as well) to Quijàro, BOLIVIA!

Tips for the Pantanal:
1. Ecological Expedition - In Foz du Iguacu, they would find you. Max is a great guide. great English, and very professional.
2. Ecological Expedition - There are different arrangements for every deal. Make the people in the office (back in Foz du Iguacu or in Campo Grande) write everything that you agreed on on the voucher you receive. The guides on the campground don`t have a clue of what you arranged with the office. (I almost lost a horse ride because of confusion)
3. The Pantanal! - If you have the time, don`t miss it. The dry season (June-September) is the good season.

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