So...here we are my hubby and I left behind the easy-going life of wonderful snow fields in Toronto for the rougher life of the Pantanal. The Pantanal is a region in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Western Brazil. It is a giant swampland over half the size of New York State, containing over 600
We started off easily enough, leaving from Campo Grande, a decent-sized and forgettable city on the outskirts of the Pantanal. We left on a small plane about half hour to a deserted tarmac in Corumbá.
There, we were to switch into a jeep safari vehicle with all our luggage. When we disembarked we were instantly mugged by the tremendous heat. It was close to a stifling 100 degrees, with a humidity index of ridiculous.
We got into a safari vehicle and winded down dirt roads for the next 2 hours. On our way into the swamp, we saw a toucan, blue and green macaws. For my husband it was a weird feeling to see these different types of birds outside of a zoo setting. We saw alligators, deer and other land animals.
Our guide just kind of laughed when Edward asked him why the vehicle we were just in couldn't take us to my father's house.
We drove away as it started to get dark. The scenery was amazing. We were in the middle of nowhere and had been there for hours. Edward said if he got lost in a place like this, he could literally walk or scream for miles and miles without seeing or hearing anyone. The landscape is very different from the extremely dense Amazon. There are still jungles in the Pantanal, but then there are also huge open fields and vast swamplands.
As we clicked along at a brisk pace now, our lights on, flying through narrow trails, constantly ducking from invading branches and trees, I was wondering how in God's name we had any idea where we were going since any sense of a road, dirt or anything, had disappeared miles ago. Well, my questions were somewhat answered when we got stuck in a huge swamp after our driver tried going through about three feet of water.
I thought this was utter stupidity on his part. After flooring the gas pedal for a couple minutes, we were told to jump in the water and help push. Can you believe that? Crazy!So, all the guys jumped into the water, which was a little weird, after we had just seen loads of alligators on the way in.
The water was like a hot tub, about 85 degrees. This was great, after shocking everyone with the news that we were not required by the US to get yellow fever vaccinations, and hearing that the stagnant waters of the Pantanal were prime territory for yellow fever. Edward quickly learned that the driver was not as stupid as he thought, as the lights from the car made him realize that for miles the land was just as flooded as where we were standing. Of course, this process of getting out and pushing was repeated several times and he quickly realized that he wasn't in Toronto anymore.
All this was emphasized by the fact that our driver and guide were up front, pounding Cachaça, the strong tequila-like firewater that goes into Brazil's caipirinhas. They were trading swigs of the stuff and topping it off with beer. This kind of behavior is a common act of machismo and practiced quite often in rural parts of S. America.
All this became part of the experience, and I have to laugh now in hindsight at what a fragile traveler Edward was.
At my dad's house, we slept in in an enclosed area of futile mosquito nets and wooden ceilings. Of course, there was a bar in the middle of the living room and cold beer never tasted so good. After not really getting much sleep in the extreme heat and mosquitoes buzzing, we woke up at six and went on a nature hike. You have to go on hike early on because it gets so hot by midday that all the animals are hidden away, and so were we. We saw a snake in the anaconda family and our guide caught it for us to hold around our necks. We saw monkeys, the ugliest armadillos I have ever seen, wild boars, some red macaws and deer. I was really hoping to see a jaguar or a puma, but our guide has lived in the Pantanal almost his entire life and only seen 15 or so.
The next day, we were told that we were headed out to fish for piranhas. Hands down, this was the most exciting and best part of the travel. We were driven out to a lake an hour away on a trailer pulled by a tractor. Our guide gave us each a bamboo stick with a string and a hook on the end and told us, "Now, go fish."
We laughed, thinking he was joking, but joking he was not. All his life, Edward have thought of the piranha as a flesh-eating man fish that would rip apart the first human that dare enter its water. I would like all of you, of course, to believe that, but it was not the case.
Our guide did not give him much helpful information, only using his broken English to tell him, "Is OK, go fish," so he thought Edward would learn through trial and error, since he seemed to think it was OK. We waded through the water, about 95 degrees and scalding hot. It was like stepping into a jacuzzi with a really bad sunburn; only I didn't have a sunburn. We got used to it and started through the weeds and watched as the water started past our waists and up to our chests. This was awesome!
Edward got in and tentatively attached the pungent bait before casting out his line of 6 feet. I would never have believed it but wouldn't you know? He had caught dinner. After pulling it in, I glanced inside the piranha's mouth. The teeth were razor sharp, as expected. We stayed out there the rest of the afternoon in the blazing hot sun, getting lots of bait snagged, but not catching anything else. It didn't really matter. It was already one of the greatest experiences of Edward's life.
We deep-fried the piranhas at night and had them for dinner. They were much smaller in size than I expected, and the meat on them was scarce, but damn good. You have to cut off their heads and de-bone them while eating, but Edward quickly got the hang of it.
The rest of our time there is spent on other nature hikes and a fabulous horseback ride. We rode out into the flatlands and watched the sunset. I had only been riding a couple of times, and both times was just a leisurely trail ride. This time, we were away from internet, financial troubles, liability statements, probably a good and bad thing, and so we were free to gallop. It was a cool experience. The sunset here is beautiful, and Edward witnessed the Southern Cross for the first time.
We had a great group of diverse peoples visiting us all the time. We stayed up each night, downing caipiranhas and trading stories of travels. Eventually, I got quite accustomed to the lifestyle, and its almost hard to leave.