Saturday 22 September 2018

Hello Brazil. Into the Pantanal

We were in two minds whether to leave Bolivia and take a look at the Pantanal region of Brazil at this stage.

Well from the second we entered Brazil we knew that we had made the right choice. The immigration guy was warm, smiling and welcoming and we entered on high spirits.

Having arrived in the south in the town of Corumba we stayed a night in a local Pousada, that allows you to camp in their garden. The owner " Hugo " helped us arrange  putting our truck on a Boat / Barge the following week to make the journey up river to the Northern Pantanal . This gave us just over a week to explore the southern region which lies in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

The Pantanal is the worlds largest tropical wetland area and covers approximately 190,000 square kilometres , of which 80% is submerged in the wet season. It is mostly in Brazil but has smaller sections in Bolivia and Paraguay.

It is hardly inhabited  and is the home to thousands of different wetland Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Insects .
Most of the Pantanal is not accessible in any way.

There are two main roads to the town of Bonito. One is fast paved all the way  and the other is a dirt road for half the way, that drives directly through the region called "Parque Estadual do Pantanal do Rio Negro " It requires you to take a small ferry at the mid point. We obviously chose this route but could not find out if the intermittent ferry service was operation so on a wing and a prayer we set of.

At this stage of this post I should warn our readers that its is going to be a long post with lots of pictures so get comfy.

The first "Ripio "section on ruta MS228 was our first real taste of Tropical South America. The temperatures climbed to 38 degrees in the day and around 30 in the night and the humidity was stifling.

One of the last big jobs we completed on the truck before leaving the UK was fitting Air Conditioning to the cab. Thank god we did.

The road had endless good bridges and every time you entered a bridge it was like having a window into an amazing world

The bird life was Ornithological heaven and we soon realised that our small bird book was totally inadequate and we should have bought a longer camera lense. This 1 day section took 3 days as we stopped every few hundred meters to admire the scenery and get some photos.

The animal and reptile life was also breathtaking, so many new things to see.


Yellow Billed Cardinal

Capybaras. Outside our door
Capybara outside our door


Despite the heat being nearly unbearable Pat declined the suggestion that we should stop and have a swim .


Its always noisy in the Pantanal. One bird in particular that we think is called a Rusty Margined Guan, roosts in numbers of 50 plus in the trees above the truck. They make this noise constantly so imagine this times  50 for  24 hours a day. We called this bird a Tree Turkey amongst other thingsat 3 am.

The Boat at Porto Manga was working and within a few days we were at the town of Bonito

The town was surrounded by amazing places to visit and also to our delight great river fish restaurants .

The first place we visited was a snorkeling centre  on the river Prata, about 50 km out of town.

We loved it.  The water was as clear as drinking water and you got in upstream and simply floated face down for 3 km looking at the amazing underwater world below

Stole this
Stole this
Stole this

We then went to Bodequina to a waterfall experience which was a lovely day out .

We were adopted by a lovely Brazilian couple called Alex and Mayara .  We will always remember them.

This was the first time on the whole journey that it felt a bit like a normal holiday. We really relaxed and enjoyed the weather and surroundings.

During our return journey we again took the small river crossing at Porto manga. Only this time the water flow was so intense it too the Captain over 30 minutes to dock the boat. It looked like we would have to return to Bonito. eventually he found the shore. Two very small planks were deployed and we were ushered off the boat in a panic.

Having then travelled back to Corumba the same way we met our boat in the port . Pat always said she fancied a cruise but I don't think this is what she meant .

The boat was made for carrying cattle and hadn't been completely cleaned out since the last load.

The Barges were all tied together in a long line and we were added along side the front one.

Getting on was a bit of sweaty moment but once on we made it our home for the next 4 days

The boat slowly meandered up the Rio Paraguay and  the Cuiabá River with an average speed of about 5 kph.

Various other cargoes were on board like bags of rice, washing machines and endless barrels of Diesel.  These had to dropped of at many riverside locations on the way.

There were also 20 Ranch hands and one tourist on a bicycle. 

Sometimes they used a small boat to make the deliveries and sometimes , without telling us, they would tie our barge to the bank and disappear for a few hours leaving us alone. The first time this happened was in the middle of the night. We woke up realising that we weren't moving anymore and when we looked out we were completely alone in the middle of nowhere.

Most of the food served on board came with beans and teeth. The cook caught 50 Piranhas in 30 minutes. Don't think we will go for a swim here either

Sadly once dusk arrived we had to baton down the hatches as millions of bugs, whose only aim in life was to eat us , came to life.

Our departure town called "Porto Jofre" was small and survived totally on the tourist industry who have come to see either Jaguars, Birds or go fishing.

Most of the Pantanal is actually privately owned and luckily a wild cat preservation society called "Panthera" own most of it . Over the last few decades they have successfully convinced the locals that a live Jaguar is worth far more to them than a dead one  and subsequently , other than fishing, nearly all hunting in the region has now stopped. Former hunters now apply their knowledge to guide tourists.

Our first trip out in search of Jaguars was totally unsuccessful . We didn't see a thing. That night in the camp we were surrounded by people who were telling their tales of how they saw 5 in one day. We felt quite despondent.

The next day however, our luck was in and over the following two days we had incredible views of 5 of these big cats.

We were even lucky enough to see a mother with her cub 

The jaguars were quite ellusive so we spent hours scouring the rivers edge looking for them . This gave us a great opportunity to see many other animals and birds that live in the region .

Another great find in the Pantanal was the Giant River Otters. These social creatures need to eat 4 kg of fish per day and can grow up to nearly 2 meters in length.

They were very entertaining .

We were very lucky in that we met a truly wonderful Swiss couple called Andreas and Kasia. They along with their guide Miriam invited us to join them on their boat . Amazing couple who we owe many thanks.

Their boat pilot was one of the aforementioned Caimen hunters who now takes tourist on trips.

Miriam, on the left, works not only as a tour guide ( expert in all things Pantanal )  but is also is very involved in the development and protection of the indigenous people of the area.

She also has a Pousada in Miranda where  Overlanders can stay.

 This guy was also friendly

Blue and Yellow Macaw

We were truly sad to leave Porto Jofre, but with the exception of seeing a Tapir, we had ticked nearly all the boxes we needed to.

So with a view to getting at least a hundred plus kilometres  under our belt we set off on the notorious MT 60 "The Transpantaniera" famous for having over 100 dodgy bridges .

In true Cloud 9 style we only got 20 km and bumped into a fabulous couple "Laure and Christian" who were taking shade by the side of the road in their Pinzgauer. 

Within minutes the chairs were out, the beer and wine flowed and we stayed there for 2 night.

We truly hope that our journeys cross paths in the future

Amazingly we were camped directly beneath the most incredible Bee Colony. These were African Bees that apparently were a very regrettable import in the 1950's

Luckily they had no interest in us .

So once again we set off. The bridges got worse and worse . 

In true team spirit Pat chose to walk across some of them.

Its always prudent in these circumstance to get out and really have a good luck under the bridge to see what it looks like below surface.

Then sometimes you wished you hadn't

Faced with turning round , driving 100km back over all the bridges then returning to Corumba on a four day boat trip, you tend to just go for it.

But then there is always one that stops you in your tracks 

Hasta Luego