Leaving beautiful paraty, I head on a very long bus journey (very nice bus though with reclining seats) to Sao Paulo. Negotiate my way in metro to find hostel. Really nothing to say about Sao Paulo other than huge, ugly, dirty and smelly city but to be fair it was only a stopover and there must be some interesting things to see there I'm sure. For me, worst hostel, worst food and couldn't wait to get away from the place, so following morning I lug my luggage in 35 degree heat back the metro to get to the bus station.
13 hours later, I arrive in Campo Grande where I am met by the tour driver who takes me to the agency. As I enter, I find Chris and Erica (from
Fareham) who I first met in Rio and who have been doing the same journey as me but just a few days ahead and also a couple I met on the bus from Paraty to Sao Paulo the previous day who went straight to Campo Grande. It seems they have all been waiting for me to start the tour which is great. So after my 13 hrs I am straight back into a mini bus with our group and head another 4 hours to a place with no name on the Miranda river.
First I need to make a geographical correction, the Pantanal area is not actually in the Amazon but further south in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. With a total area of 75,000 square miles, it is the largest wetland in the world.
Because about 80% of the wetlands are submerged during the wet season, the species here include aquatic ones, making it an even more diverse and fascinating destination to consider. The water can rise by up to five metres during the wet season. The daily highs average an annual mean of 25 degrees Celsius. However, summer days have been known to soar to a scorching 40 degrees, while winter nights can plummet to zero. October is the end of the dry season and it was around 38 degrees C every day and barely less at night so very grateful for aircon in the room.
Almost as soon as we arrive, we meet our guide, Louis and start fishing for piranahs. Erica catches 3 catfish (which have a very poisonous fin) boys catch 2 piranahs and I catch a baby catfish. This was cooked and served to us for dinner.
6am rise for breakfast and we are off in the jeep along a dirt road going over many wooden bridges. Along the way, we see a caiman sunning himself, a pair of tuyunus (they pair for life, have a life expextancy of about 70 yrs and have an impressive 2m wing span). We then walk (so so hot!) and see a ant eater on a branch, many birds, some emus and capybaras in the river (world's biggest rodent).
After lunch, we take a boat up the Miranda river and get give a couple of sausage floats. I wasn't sure about this swimming at first but Louis assures us it is perfectly safe and to just stay in the middle of the river (which is about 100m wide). Everyone else is going in so I can't really chicken out. A bit scary as the water, although a lovely and refreshing temperature, is very brown so you cannot see anything. I just try not to think of what is in there. Thirty minutes in the water and we have drifted back to our hostel, shower and lunch and rest in air con room.
Around 5pm, we head back up the river but do not see much during the day. After a beautiful sunset, it is now dark and this is when the fun begins. Louis shines his powerful torch along the side of the river and we see all these eyes just above the water amongs the vegetation. Caimans, (a small aligator). There are loads of them big and small, some very quiet, some a little more agitated. Thinking of our earlier swim, I ask Louis why they did not come for us and he said they are most active after dark and are not really interested in humans. Well that's a relief! Now I know why they make us swim before showing us what's in the water!
However the best has yet to come, we suddently come across the elusive jaguar, a very rare sight. He is just in the shrubs along the river bank and we only see his head at firt, Louis turns the boat round whilst trying to keep the torch on him whilst we all try and get our cameras. I manage to capture is back as he moves away (you have to zoom in to just about distinguish his coat) but Mike has him on video. We are all very excited especially as Louis tells us that no-one has seen a jaguar for several months!.
6am rise again on our last day and we go back up the river to do some canoeing. Our boat engine keeps stalling however which is not very reassuring. We eventurally get to our canoes and when turning them over, find a baby snake (poisoneous) under one of the paddles. I stay well away thinking that the mother can't be too far away!
A few minutes after we are in the canoes, Erica and Chris capsize and everyone is laughing and I am grateful that my co-pilot Kevin is an experienced canoeist as I really don't fancy another dip. We spend about 45 minutes canoeing and it is very calm and beautiful. We seem many birds, some monkeys and a family of capybaras with the babies feeding on their mother. Back in the boat, the engine keeps failing and we just drift fror a while before being able to set off again.
Pantanal is very flat and very beautiful and our 3 days tour has been fantastic with a really nice group of people. As we are driven back to our transfer, Louis tells me to come in the cab rather than at the back of the jeep. They all believe I have been some kind of good omen to them as I brought the group together in Pantanal and we saw the elusive jaguar so Louis and the tour owner consider me as someone who brought them good luck.
End of the tour, Chris, Erica and I head to Bonito whilst Mike and Rebecca go straight to Iguassu Falls.