Campo Grande & The Pantanal
Uyuni's airport was nothing more than a one-room hut made of salt bricks at the end of what, in any normal airport, would be the runway but here was a track, barely distinguishable from the surrounding dirt. We queued up to have our names ticked off the passenger list and our luggage weighed with a spring scale. We were lucky. The person in the queue behind us, despite having a ticket, was not allowed to board because the weight limit of the tiny DC3 sitting outside had been reached. The flight, as you might expect, involved a certain amount ofarmrest gripping and eyelids scrunching.
After the badlands of Bolivia, Campo Grande (pronounced campo granjay - welcome to Portuguese) in Brazil came as a bit of a shock. Sparkling fresh with greenery, smooth, tarmaced roads, new cars and tall, shiny people, it was a different universe, where the shops mostly kept their produce on the inside without a single pig´s head to be seen.
The main reason to head to Campo Grande is to visit the Pantanal, the largest floodable plain in the world - it is the size of Portugal. In the wet season, which had just ended, the Rio Paraguay and other regional rivers, overspill into the surrounding low-lying grasslands, forcing the wildlife onto small forested islands known as chacos. To treat ourselves (as though a 6-month vacation wasn't already a treaty treat), we booked into the decidedly decadent Fazenda Xaraes, one of the many farms throughout the Pantanal that combine traditional working practices, herding white cattle drawn by Disney, with tourism. Getting there involved a long drive from Campo Grande and James Bond-ing (albeit Roger Moore-ishly) in a motorised launch up the twisting Rio Abobral, which steamed with dense vegetation as grinning caiman slid from the banks on either side.
On arrival, outside our lodge, was the Fazenda´s emblem, a life-like carving of a 2 metre long caiman, perfect for a kissing photograph…only to discover there was rather more emphasis on the "life" than the "like"! Don´t worry, R now has his lips stitched back on. Caiman are not the only critters to wander across the manicured lawns from the surrounding swamps. A rogue armadillo was caught red-snouted truffling through the vegetable patch and was swiftly repatriated to his natural habitat in an onion sack. And, opening the door onto the darkness, we startled a family of capybara, the giant rodents darting off into the undergrowth, barking their protest like a ensemble of angry kazoo-ists.
We spent our time on the farm walking with Pedro, the resident biologist, canoeing, and fishing for piranha (not terribly successfully - despite their reputation, they wouldn´t bite). The piranhas and the caiman had to be put firmly to the back of our minds while our horses ploughed belly-deep through the flooded Pantanal, our succulent feet dangling in the water. Much better to focus on the blue macaws, jabirus (storks), caracaras (falcons) and Guinness toucans in the sky, or the cute raccoon-like coat and black howler monkeys, screaming Friday the 13th warnings, in the trees.
A Word on Brazilian Portuguese
It's not like Spanish. To hear it, it sounds more like Dutch.
The Portuguese definite article includes words which are most definitely not definite in other languages more familiar to us. There are 4 words for 'the' - male singular, female singular, male plural and female plural. The female singular for 'the' is 'a' and the male singular is 'o' which means 'or' in Spanish.The word for 'thank you' is 'obrigado' if you are a man and 'obrigada' if you are a womanIt's full of zh sounds as in 'vision', dj sounds as in 'judge', ch sounds as in 'church' and ow sounds
Everything is always 'tudo bem' pronounced 'tjuda behng'