South America | Brazil | Mato Grosso – Piranha fishing in Brazil
Piranha fishing in the remote wetlands of Brazil. Just another adventure I never imagined I’d be doing on this weird and crazy South American adventure. I spent the last few days on an ecological expedition to the Pantanal, the vast expanse of wetlands in south west Brazil, getting attacked by a billion mosquitos and a mad parrot.
From Foz do Iguazu in Brazil I headed north to the town of Campo Grande on a fourteen hour bus ride. The ride was made all the more annoying because some kid threw up behind me and some nut decided it was a good idea to practice his singing right up to three in the morning.
I did however arrive at Campo Grande early in the morning and walked right into the hostel opposite the bus terminal. The town is the gateway to the Pantanal, the vast expanse of wetlands occupying much of the south west of Brazil over 150,000 square kilometres. The Pantanal is also quite remote with very little human occupation because the rising waters during the wetter months make it impossible for habitation.
However this provides an extraordinarily rich feeding ground for the 650 species of birds, 260 species of fish, 95 species of mammals, and 160 species of reptiles that are known to exist here. Over the next few days I joined up with a Brit, a Canadian, an Irish, and two Swiss travellers for some camping, wildlife spotting, and pretending to be Steve Irwin the crocodile hunter.
Truck ride to base camp
Getting to the base camp was a feat in itself. This involved a three hour bus ride, followed by the most ridiculous truck ride I’ve been on. For the next four hours, our group bumped around in the back of an open top truck. We were tossed around like dice, as well as having to dodge dangerous tree branches that whiplashed into the truck.
We did get there at dark, and fortunately the camp was quite well set up. For sleeping quarters, we were given hammocks inside huts with mosquito netting for walls. The camp also had a bar and a campfire, and with nothing much to do at night, it was no surprise that the bar was made quite good use of. The camp was also home to Chiquita, the huge blue parrot that thinks she’s one of the humans. The parrot is notorious for stealing items that people leave around and randomly perching on people’s shoulders whenever she felt like it. She was mostly harmless but proved quite amusing.
The following morning we were woken up bright and early by the forest’s alarm clock: a thousand monkeys screeching their tails off. After breakfast we went on a hike through the vast plains and forest. Our guide can be described as a Brazilian Steve Irwin; walking around barefoot and enthusiastic about animals.
Over the course of the morning’s hike, he would point the various animals in the area. We saw numerous blue and red macaws, toucans, monkeys, water pigs, strange looking storks, emus, deer, alligators, and racoon type creatures known as coatis. At one point he suddenly dashed off somewhere. He then beat a tree trunk with a stick, resulting in a huge rodent zooming out right under our feet, scaring the jeebers out of us.
For the afternoon’s hike, he showed us how to catch an alligator with nothing but a short stick on some fishing line and a length of rope. We were quite impressed that he could actually lure one out and lasso it with the rope. Most of the alligators here are around a metre and a half in length and will leave humans alone, preferring to feed on fish. We did get up close to the one he captured to stroke its belly and marvel at its double eyelids. The critter was then let go back into the water, feeling rather grateful that it didn’t end up as a Louis Vuitton handbag.
The following day turned out to be overcast and rather cold, but we did brave the elements to go piranha fishing. At the swamp, we waded in to the river with our swim suits on, up to our thighs in filthy disgusting muddy water. We were told this was the only way to get close enough to catch piranhas. As I waded in, I had visions of a foaming bloodbath occuring around me, only for them to drag my out with nothing but the bones left on my feet.
However these piranhas left humans alone, and only went after the raw pieces of bloody steaks we used on our hooks. After a few stolen baits, I managed to hook one of the suckers. Our guide caught far more than any of us, and for dinner that night we fried them up for a meal. It was a case of man eating piranha this time.
Galloping at full speed
For that afternoon we went on a horse ride around the wide open plains and through some forest. I had been horse riding on this trip way back in Cuba, but this was far more exciting. For one thing, our steeds galloped at full speed across the plains. This is both the most terrifying and exhilirating thing that could happen to someone who doesn’t usually ride horses. Of course I also ended up with a sore butt from all the bumping around in the saddle, but it was one of the higher adrenaline rushes I’ve had.
Wonders of nature
The Pantanal was both interesting and relaxing. In between the activities, we had plenty of time to lounge around and chill out. The wildlife we spotted in their natural habitats was something that is not seen every day. The diversity was of course also due to luck; while I saw quite a few animals, I did not encounter tapirs, armadillos, anteaters, or anacondas. But perhaps it would have been better not to encounter that last one.