Today we depart beautiful Bonito for somewhere even more amazing: The Pantanal. Located in the centre of South America it is the largest contiguous wetlands in the world - some 210,000 sq km. Although 'Pantano' means Swamp in Portuguese it is not but in fact a vast alluvial plain. In geological terms it is a sedimentary basin of quaternary origin, the drying remains of an ancient sea called 'Xaraes' which began to dry out 65 million years ago. From inland sea, to vast lake it is now a periodically flooded plain that experiences just 2 seasons: Wet from Nov-March when the river floods over and most of the low lying region sits beneath up to 3 m of water, and Dry for the rest of the year where the flood plains dry out and become Savannah like.
The Pantanal is the best region in Brazil to see wildlife owing to the fact that for the most part the vegetation is low lying allowing for uch easier sightings of the animals. It is also for the most part uninhabited.
We wake at 4.30 in the morning to catch our transfer for a 3 hour drive to our accommodation in the Pantanal which is the farm 'San Franscisco'. Farms are pretty much the only settlements here - but have a surprising lucrative industry. Everyone knows that Brazilians love their rice - but ask the average Brazilian where their rice comes from and they will shrug their shoulders. I asked this about 2 weeks after arriving in Brazil. You see I knew that rice had to be grown in flooded 'Paddy fields' but could not imagine anywhere in Brazil being like that. The answer is……..of course the Pantanal. The annual flooding is perfect for rice growing - and the other huge agricultural industry: Cattle. The third major industry in the Panatanal is a new one - Ecotourism. Something that all the farms are cashing in on as the Pantanal remains the best place in the world to see Jaguar (in the dry something like 70% chance to see). They provide accommodation, food and guides who take tourists into the Pantanal.
So we roll up to the farm at 8 and check in. The heat and humidity of this place is so oppressive. Imagine 210,000km of water evaporating all around you - and a hot 30-35 deg sun. It only takes a few mins before you whole body is sticky and covered in sweat. Well our room here was great (ac & fan). We met our guide Roberta (specially requested as she was bilingual) and had a great breakfast.
After we head out on a day safari in a converted 4WD. Our expectations are low - this is the wet season and probably the worst time of year to see wildlife (We had no choice but to visit now) however it starts great - we get several sightings of Marsh deer and Caiman. Bird life is everywhere and we see hundreds of Falcons, owls, Ringed kingfishers, Jabiri stalks, Tiger Heron, Parakeets, Maccaws and the great black hawk (the largest bird in the Pantanal. After a few more minutes we bump into a family of Capivara (pretty much the food source of everything mean in this area). It is on our return journey something incredible turns up. In Brazilian it is called the Tamandua Bandeiro. In English the Giant Anteater. A wondrous animal (and the animal I was most hoping to see). Extremely endangered now. An extremely unusual looking quadraped about 2.5m long with a long nose and tongue that eats termites and ants. It was on the road about 100m ahead and as soon as it got a whiff of us moved into the bushes to the side of the road. 'Ah ha' we thought. It is pretty much trapped as on the other side of the bushes are the flood canals that carry water to the paddy fields. So we roll the 4WD up to where it went into the bushes and eagerly awaited it to come out. What happened next was truly amazing. Can anteaters swim?? Such questions I am sure have plague the curious minds of biologists the world around. The answer, I am happy to report is……..Yes they can. Rather than come out to be snapped our little friend decided to swim the channel. Something our guide had never seen before. So I took the opportunity to catch a very rare picture - an Anteater swimming.
Back then to the farm for lunch and after lunch out to the river for a boat tour. We got to see a lot of water birds; Cormorats, Heron, Stalks and kingfishers. Then we did a spot of Piranha fishing. Sorry not the red bellys but the yellow bellied variety. Slightly larger but not as vicious. Everyone managed to catch at least one. Mine I think was the largest (of course). Then we took the fish and feed them to the surrounding wildlife. One to the Fish hawk who came to watch us. And 3 or 4 to a couple of friendly caiman who were only too happy to perform for their lunch. This involved climbing some stairs at the pier and coming vertically up.
Back to the farm for some dinner and then out again for a night safari. Before we left I went snake hunting and with the aid of our taxi driver found a small little snake called 'Costello de Vacha' or 'Cows ribs'. Not venomous but very cute. We also get a nightly visit from some very tame Crab eating foxes. The tour itself was not amazing I am sad to report. We caught sight of a red brockett deer, some more caiman and a couple of glimpse sightings of Ocelots and a pretty good sighting of a Tapir but nothing too amazing.
The next day we woke early and our morning activity was a Canoe on the same river containing all those Caiman and Piranhas I was telling you about before. It was 3 of us in a Canoe and it was the most unstable terrifying tour. The boat was flat bottomed but pitched scarily at the slightest of movements. Thus of course keeping our balance became impossible. We didn't fall in - but likewise we didn't enjoy the tour so much - even when a troupe of Capuchan monkeys came close to the river banks.
The afternoon was a small hike on a man made bridge across the wetlands - which again wasn't terrific and didn't yield any interesting sightings.
It was the night safari we did that proved to be the trip of the day. Starting out we caught a great sighting of another Giant Anteater with a baby on her back, a really great sighting of a very playful Ocelot and another Tapir.
Then after breakfeast the next day we headed back to Campo Grande for our long flight back to Belo Horizonte. As we left the farm it was very satisfying to see the heavens open up and pour with rain for pretty much the whole day. We really lucked out on that one.
I am back in Belo Horizonte with just 10 days to go until I return to the UK. I only have one more blog to post after this giving a round up of Brazil and Belo.
I hope everyone has enjoyed the blogs and accompanying pics. Write again soon!