South America | Brazil | Mato Grosso | Corumba – Riding the Pantanal
Sunday 27th May
The train journey was bad, but not nearly as bad as I haad expected. Lonely Planet makes out that its hell upon earth and while it was excrutiatingly uncomfortable, it wasnt hellish. The best thing was as ever the never ending line of people selling coffee, juice, hot food, nuts, crisps, cake, snacks everything you could possibly want except perhaps a nice cold beer!
So after the 18 hour journey, we eventually arrived in Corumba, just over the Brazilian border. We fell on our feet again as far as local celebration goes, with the Flamengos winning the championship, the football mad Brazilians were out celebrating at the weaterfront. Loud music and plenty of beer to be had.
I think Im going to like Brazil!
Monday 28th May
A day exploring Corumba told us that it lacks one vital thing a public swimming pool. Its very sticky and sweaty here and we spent the day craving ice cream and a cold pool while shopping for some summery clothes. All the boring stuff is out of the way we shopped around and found a cheaper hotel, booked a four day tour in the Pantanal and have even paid for our bus to Rio at the weekend. Now all we have to do is relax and enjoy the tropical heat!
Tuesday 29th May
Waking up early and feeling like a five year old on Christmas day, I went through the motions of breakfast and showering before getting to the real excitement. The Pantanal the worlds largest wetlands area at 150,000 km 2 and one of the highlights of our trip. I havent been this excited since I left London and was riding my imaginary horse through Shepherds Bush (dont ask!!) I sat for three hours in the truck travelling into the swamp, with a stupid grin plastered to my face. We saw plenty of wildlife on the way, which came as a nice
surprise snakes, caymans, birds and the thing I came to see capybaras. Or giant rats as Hector likes to call them. I think they are adorable!!
this trip seems more our style than the Inca Trail we even stopped to stock up with beers on the way my kind of tour company!! The afternoon was spent basking in the sun and lounging around in our hammocks, then out for a wildlife walk at dusk. I can now stop worrying about starving to death in the jungle (did I do that?) because Carola, our guide, has educated me in jungle fruits and how to get water from the trees. We were lucky enough to see black howler monkeys mating along the way too. Does that make me sound a bit perverse!!???
The absence of electricity means that bedtime comes not long after the sun sets, which is a bonus since the lack of blinds in the hut means sunrise is waking up time!
Wednesday 30th May
Having taken sunset photos over the Villarica volcano, the Pacific Ocean, the Andes and Lake Titicaca, I have finally managed to take a sunrise shot. My mum and dad would never believe I could be up at 5 with no prompting!!
Today the adventure starts. After years of steering clear, I have finally mounted a horse. It was fine it didnt rear up, it didnt buck me off. Im a natural. Personally I was quite happy with the gentle walk through the plains, but Hector insisted on smacking my horses arse (theres a phrase I thought Id never say!) and making it trot, while Carola insisted on leading us through 5ft deep water. There were a few panicked moments when we spied caymans in the water we were about to enter. Visions of alligators leaping from the water to grapple with antelope sprung to mind. Perhaps a little dramatic since the local alligators
are considerably smaller than their African counterparts.
Of course, the rest of the trek didnt pass without incident. Having ripped my trousers, my shirt and my skin you would think Id accumulated enough injuries, but youd be wrong! Walking through a densely forrested area, Carola went one way and Hector chose another route. Against my better judgement I followed Hector. I spotted a branch too low to duck under and to heavy to lift and yanked the rains. Surprisingly the horse stopped and I tried my hardest to coax him around the tree but failed. He ploughed on taking me into the branch and knocking me off the horse. I hung from the stirrups for a moment before landing in an ungraceful heap on the floor. Apparently shouting NOOO and STOP doesnt work with horses. Maybe he didnt speak English! Oh well, I knew Id
fall off sooner or later, but I was hoping for something a little more spectacular that the Warner Brothers cartoon style rider-gets-knocked-off-by-low-branch affair!!
As if that werent enough excitement for one day, we headed off to do a bit of piranha fishing in the afternoon. Indeed, my fishing effort was comparible to my horse riding effort. The three bites I had ended in me leaping to my feet to grapple with the beast, almost losing my balance and worrying all in the boat by rocking it a little too much. Needless to say that they got away. I was beginning to think it was all a con since only Carols had caught anything, when Hector reeled in a whopper. He ended up being the star of the show with two more piranhas to his name. Good job really or there wouldnt have been anything for tea!!!
Thursday 31st May
After all of yesterdays excitement (And pain!) today was take it easy day. We were woken at 5 to do a wildlife walk before sunrise. Unfortunately a dog from the camp had followed us and scuppered our chances of seeing many animals. The dogs presence wasnt all bad though half of the morning was spent wading through thigh deep swamp and since I was, as ever, bringing up the rear I had it in my head that a passing anaconda would pick me off as the weak fat one! When the dog turned up I decided it would make a nice meal for a hungry predator!! Of course nothing so exciting happened and we headed back to camp in need of a shower and some breakfast.
Tours in the Pantanal leave you with a lot of free time since the middle of the day is too hot for hikes. The local swimming hole was full of Caymans and while we were promised that they dont eat people, we decided to abstain. Luckily though, Hector was on hand to entertain us. Ever energetic, he was leaping around doing a convincing Steve Irwin impression, enthusiastically trying (and failing) to catch a lizard. We learnt something from his efforts though he almost caught it and in defence the thing shed its tail. Quite revolting to watch the tail reeling and wriggling for 5 minutes, but very interesting!!
Friday 1st June
Since the numbers in the camp were still low, our guide let us tag along on another horse ride. This time I got a well behaved, obidient horse that even I could control and the whole thing was even more enjoyable. I wasnt even the one that fell off this time. Cristas fall was a bit more impressive than mine her horse reared up at the sight of a full-grown cayman leaving her sitting in the swamp a metre away from it. I even managed to stay on when my horse knew it was headed for home and broke into a gallop. I was screaming, but I stayed on!
The truck picked us up after lunch and we set off for Corumba. Wed seen so many birds, capybaras and caymans on the outward journey that we thought they would be verywhere. I had been disappointed not to see another giant rat on our walks, but the journey home soon cheered me up. It looks like their habitat is lying at the side of the road, only moving when a truck passes. We could have saved ourselves the
trouble of hiking through the undergrowth and taken a stroll down the road instead!!
Since it’s Friday, we take advantage of the fact that we are not on a bus and head out to sample Corumba’s nightlife. The waterfront area os buzzing, mainly because of the town’s second annual dance festival. Once the performance ends. the beer vendors start to pack up and the crowd thins out, so we seek out a bar that serves gin and tonic. It’s an expensive do though and it looks like we’ve chosen the wrong night to come out since all clubs and most bars are closed. On recommendation from our Pantanal guide (and out Lonely Planet guide) we head for Vivabella. Drinks seem moderatley prices and the terrace has great views of the river. It even has live music (although it seems that members of the audience are just getting up to do a turn when they are drunk enough) All’s well until the bill arrives. We notice that the prices are wrong on our ticket with ‘Gringos’ scrawled across it, then the waiter whips it from under our noses and disappears. When he returns, the total has been increased. When questioned, the waiter claims that the additional charge is for the live music. Trying not to be too rude, we point out that the live music is a load of tone deaf drunks doing karaoke, which attracts the attention of the manager. We are sure that this charge is a special Gringo charge although we can’t prove it.
my time has run out!!!!!!!! more later