If we thought the dirt roads around Bonito were bad we hadn´t seen anything yet! We left Bonito and after about 4 hours of being bounced around in the back of a mini bus we arrived at Passo do Lontra in the Pantanal.
The Pantanal is a huge swamp land which is bigger than france. There are no roads, just dirt tracks which turn to mud when it rained. We arrived at our "plush" lodge for the next 2 nights. We had been expecting hammocks, but it turned out to be 4 ex- bunk beds sawed apart, in a wood cabin type room. The key was to spend as little time as possible in the room for the duration of the stay.
It was really warm when we arrived and the first afternoon we spent on a river safari. A metal pencil speed boat pulled up and we jumped in wearing 1970s life jackets. We sped off up the river. There are loys of wildlife in this area. Hundreds of different birds, many very exotic looking. We saw a couple of toucans. lots of tuiuiu (jabiru or giant red throated storks) and lots of kingfishers to name a few. We saw some black howler monkies hanging out in the trees, lots of capybara (giant rodants) and hundreds of caymen (crocodile like creatures). Bearing that in mind, and knowing there were pirahanas in the water, we stopped at a sand bank and went for a swim! Our gude, max told us it was safe! The bottom of the river was slimy and muddy but the water was really warm. We didn´t stay in for too long, just incase.
We carried on with our safari and sailed past a jaguar on the bank of the river! Max has only spotted one 6 times this whole year! We turned the boat around and got up eally close to the river bank where she was lying in the shade. It was an amazing sight. We though jaguar were dark, but apparently they are born dark and then develop there spots. Max stood up and the front of our boat and the jaguar got up and faced him. We all thought she could have leapt down to us had she wanted as we were that close. She didn´t though, just turned and walked away. We were so lucky to see a jaguar though, and within only 2 hours of being in the Pantanal. Sara, our guide saw a Puma the last time she was there so she is obviously lucky.
After that, Caymen and Capybara were no longer exciting! We headed back to the lodge and waited for dinner. The food was pretty good given the state of the place. Rice, beans, stew, a fried egg dish and potatoes. Of course we had a couple of after dinner Skol and a game of Yahtzee as has become routine. We got kicked out to bed at 10pm which seemed really early given the state of the room we had to look forward to.
The first night was not pleasant and was a very sleepless one. It was boiling, lots of strange creature noises, and insects jumping on to you in the middle of the night. We were glad to see sunrise the next morning.
Our second day was to include horse riding, a driven and a walking safari. We started with the "horse" riding. They turned out to be mules!!! Brian was doing his best John Wayne impression but failed to get more than a walk out of his mule, despite his very best efforts. We rode around the lodge and out to a viewing tower ( a metal scaffold like tower in the middle of the field). We braved it to the top (Max, our guide had never been up it) but the view wasn´t that great. We climbed precariously back down just as the rain started. It is rainy season in the Pantanal and we got soaked! It rained for most of the rest of the day.
Braving the rain we jumped on the back of an open air safari truck and sped off along the dirt road in search of some more wildlife. For the first hour we saw little else but the waterproof cover as we were bounced about the back of the truck by our bare footed driver. After an hour or two the rain ceased and we managed a one hour walk through the bush.
This proved extremely fruitfull and we saw the endangered Blue Hyacinth MaCaw, a red MaCaw, Giant Otters and loads of Caymen and Capybara. Max kept picking up plants and telling us about what the natives used them for, the smells were amazing. He was not too impressed when he picked up a plant that they used for soap and I suggested that we should take some back for the hotel. I kept quiet after that, not advisable to upset a man who wears 3 knives on his belt (the crocodile dundee definition of knife as well).
The highlight of the afternoon was when during the two hour return journey along the now mud bath of a road we come screeching to a halt after one of the numerous bumps. Max jumps out and sprints off into the bush telling us to follow him with our cameras. We jump off and try to keep up with the maverick tour guide. When we finally catch up he is standing about 6 feet away from a 2m Caymen. He informs us we are ok if we stay straight in fron as Caymen only bite to the side.
We take some confidence and proceed to take our pictures until Max then walks to the side of the Caymen and tells us we can get a better picture from here. Not wanting to upset him we move gingerly into position (notice there is no picture of me (Brian) in this spot) and take our photos. Then the Caymen moves his jaws and a little closer. Did not take us long to get back to the truck.
We arrived back just as darkness fell and in time for dinner. Another night in the 5 star Pantanal Hilton awaits us. In the morning we fished for pirhana with chunks of beef. Unfortunately no success for the Love´s but two of our group got some which we then ate for breakfast. All in all the Pantanal was great despite the accomodation.
We left the Pantanal at about 11am and set off for Bolivia and the over night train to Santa Cruz. The Bolivian border was passed smoothly and we sucessfully acquired some Boliviana from a fat man running a currency exchange business from a bum bag, welcome to Bolivia! We are currently waiting at the train station and will update you soon.