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May,04 2010

The Pantanal, Brazil

The Pantanal, Brazil

The Pantanal is the world's largest wetland, a 640,000 square kilometre compression in the earth and one of the richest areas of biodiversity on the planet. People come here to see birds and animals, take river cruises to fish for piranha, hike, explore, and spend a couple days in Bonito, which has become a major centre for Brazil's growing eco-tourism. I arrive into Campo Grande, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. I'm greeted by Ulle, a former German ballet-opera sound and light technician (best line: once you've stood with Pavarotti, people who think they are important really shouldn't) and Ernesto, named after Che. The three of us, along with a quiet driver who's name I don't remember, hit the road and the lowlands, taking in the wildlife, the spiced cachaca, and activities of the Pantanal.

It's so hot here my fingers are burning just typing this sentence. I dive into the swimming pool and it feels like sweat. Fortunately cold beer is on hand. Led by some local cowboys, we head into the wetland on horseback, hoping to catch some wildlife. The air feels heavy with all the water in it being evaporated, but there is a clear, sharp light as the sun begins to hang over the horizon. 95% of the Pantanal is privately owned land, most of which is used for agriculture and cattle farming. The floodplain has created an unusually fertile region, and while the heat and mosquitoes can be overwhelming, it has enriched both state and farmer. For a while, it looked like the Pantanal was going to be savaged, threatened by farms, chemicals, development and deforestation. But a concerted effort by the Brazilian government to conserve the wetland has paid dividends. There are still many problems, but the Pantanal is back from the brink.

We amble along until we come to a herd of zebu cows, their white hides glowing in the golden light. Zebu, known for the muscle that sits between their shoulders, are amongst the toughest breed of cow, able to withstand the heat, mosquitoes, mud, and occasional frisky jaguar. A calf comes up to one of our horses and they start licking each other. It almost made me want to become a vegetarian, which would be a silly thing to be in a country that so values its meat. So while these white cows looked like beautiful fat hornless unicorns, they also looked delicious too. Most tourists come to Pantanal with the hope of spotting a jaguar, and hundreds do roam these parts. But wildlife dance their own tune, and the evening's night safari yielded only caimans, emus, a crab eating fox, and a couple capybaras, the world's largest rodent. Wildlife buffs would no doubt be in their element, but personally I found the cascade of stars more spectacular, along with the most impressive lightning storm I've ever seen. Something in the atmosphere creates more lightning here than anywhere else in the country. It's like being in the glare of the paparazzi, the sky flickering like a strobe light in a disco. Around us, I hear the Formula One frogs, so named because they sound like formula one cars screaming past you. It's hot, the Landrover rumbles along, a caiman dashes into the water, the sky pulses. Who needs a jaguar anyway?

A 160km drive later, we arrive at to Fazenda San Francisco. Many farms are incorporating tourism into their activities, and Fazenda San Francisco packs in birdwatchers and wildlife lovers. Two night drives here do not turn up that elusive jaguar, but I do see an ocelot skulking about the ride paddies. We also spot a tapir just as we head back to the farmhouse, and it's hard to believe it's the largest indigenous mammal in all South America. Tapirs look like a pig mixed with a baby elephant, offspring of Shrek sporting a Mr T mohawk. One once chased me down a jungle boardwalk in the jungles of Venezuela, but that's another story. The fazenda offers a boat ride up an adjacent river, and here I get my second chance to play with piranhas. Hungry for munchies, it takes a minute or so before one latches onto my make-shift wooden rod. Next to me, other tourists are also striking it lucky. Fishing, according to Demetri Martin, is just another name for tricking and killing. The boat makes its way up the river, and I'm reminded of Venezuela, Borneo, Belize. Approaching 100 countries now, and everything is destined to remind me of something. In the water are yacare caimans, a relative of the crocodile, and here in the Pantanal is the largest concentration of crocodilians on the planet. They've only been protected for the last 20 years or so, so nobody knows exactly how big they might get. They are however farmed for meat, which is served in restaurants around the Pantanal, along with capybara. They both taste like chicken, trust me.

Another long haul drive, passing farmland and shrub, small towns with road stops and gift shops. After a few days checking out the local wildlife, it was time to up the adventure quotient, starting with a 90m rappel alongside the highest waterfall in the state. More points too because it also has a bitching name: Boca da Onca, or Mouth of the Jaguar. It's a pretty slick day trip, combining an easy walk along a plank path passing several crystal clear waterfalls. All are refreshing to jump into, with thoughtful stairs provided. The rappel is a sweet adventure, so long as you remember to tuck in the family jewels before lowering yourself down. With the rope burning my glove, I was happy to enjoy the ride down, anxious to get my kit off and jump into the waterfall. Tall and striking, the pool at the bottom has tiny fish who nibble on your skin (see Dr Fish in South Korea), and swimming here just about the most refreshing thing you can do after sliding down a mountain. We hike out to the meeting point, swimming in some other cascades, admiring others. It's a beautiful part of Brazil, and Brazil of course, is a beautiful part of the world.

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How to Get to the Pantanal
Tourist Attractions & Activities > Transport Information | January,19 2012

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Pantanal Bus Passes

The Pantanal Hop

The Pantanal Hop

Travel Pass from Rio de Janeiro to Foz do Iguacu via Ilha Grande, Paraty, Sao Paulo, Pantanal, Bonito. - Frequency: Daily Departures - Suggested ...

US$720.00

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Pantanal to Foz Hop

Pantanal to Foz Hop

Travel Pass from Campo Grande to Foz do Iguacu via Pantanal & Bonito. - Frequency: Daily Departures - Recommended Minimum Duration: 7 days - Rout...

US$560.00

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Capybara Hop

Capybara Hop

Travel Pass from Foz do Iguacu to Rio de Janeiro via Pantanal, Bonito, Sao Paulo, Paraty, Ilha Grande. - Frequency: Daily Departures - Minimum No....

US$690.00

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Jaguar Hop

Jaguar Hop

Travel Pass from Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguacu via Campo Grande, Pantanal & Bonito. - Frequency: Daily Departures - Recommended Duration: 09 Days - ...

US$600.00

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Piranha Hop

Piranha Hop

Travel Pass from Foz do Iguacu to Rio via Campo Grande, Pantanal & Bonito. - Frequency: Daily Departures - Recommended Minimum Duration: 9 days -...

US$610.00

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Caiman Hop

Caiman Hop

Travel Pass from Rio de Janeiro to Foz do Iguacu via Campo Grande, Pantanal & Bonito. - Frequency: Daily Departures - Recommended Minimum Duration...

US$630.00

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Green Toad Bus

+55 21 3942 0003

Florianopolis - Brazil

 
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