August 13, 2010 – August 15, 2010
We flew to Cuiaba...(Again as in Peru and Bolivia flights can be just a little bit more expensive than a 12 to 30 hour bus ride. One hour check in,limited security checks and I love the occasional frisk. So its good to fly sometimes. One negative side is that feeling of travelling from one side of a country to another is lost a little and that flying can be a bit sterile almost using an air-conditioned teleport.)...and met up with Joel Souza of his Ecoverde Tours at the Airport. After a two hour of hanging around waiting for not really knowing why , we had to pay, but Joel did not really remember what we had booked and what our itinerary was. After reminding him he said one of the days had changed not really giving a reason or for us to give a reply. All this vagueness unsettled me so I became a little cagey when he wanted the total payment of 6000 reis(£2500) in front in cash. (ATM's in Brazil are temperamental, need a lot of careful persuasion and appropriate etiquette. Joy beholds the traveller from Bolivia when at the first Bank in Brazil there are tens of ATM's in delux aircon rooms. They lead you on with their questions " would you like to use English" but as the questions become more difficult they very rarely dispense with their cash. Often you have a try literally 10 machines in 4 different banks before they give you the notes. Odd thing is that the machine that refused your advances one day would be happy to do business with you another. This and that Brazil is more expensive needing more money (maximum payout £200) and that often people don't accept cash, can mean the trip to the Banks becomes a daily routine along with those others body abultions. Harry teases me that when we get back to the UK that I will stop the car when ever I see an ATM and fill up with cash.) ....we explained to Joel that we didn't have enough and that we would pay 2/3 now and the rest when we got back but could we have a receipt(just in case he forgot), which put the cat amongst the pigeonsThe Pantanal was a huge flat area that for six months of the year was under water, the rains from the surrounding highlands took that long to drain away. In the accessible dry season the shrinking pools were the home to the ever increased worried fish which had got stranded there. Hundreds of Cayman,birds of pray,storks, etc would sit around these feeding frenzies, gorging themselves . The water rippled with moving fish all trying to move to a bigger pool or river but in reality the water level shrunk everyday in the baking sun."Vamos"..let's go . The only reason we knew this was it was the same in Spanish. What spanish we had learnt got well grounded in with usage and was very useful in Peru and Bolivia.We had not tried to learn Portuguese .. 2 languages in 10 weeks , after all my french o-level examining board had given me "unclassified" , worse than fail and that was after five years of study. Being a small country stuck onto the Iberian peninsular I would have thought the language would be similar to Spanish. I sounded like an odd mixture of Dutch, some Scandinavian and evan Japanese. No-one seemed to know the origins of the language.The tarmac road ended at Pocone , a pleasant almost Caribbean looking town with white washed road curbs and the lower half of the trees large rooted trees with colourful wooden stalls selling ice cold beer and pastries. The Transpantanaria road was one of Brazil's Narional building projects in the 1970's by the Military President. Another was moving the Capital from Rio to Brasilia,a perpose made city situated directly in the center of Brazil, like moving the capital from London to Wooton-under-Bassett. The road was planned to cross the Pantanal from Cuibia to Corumber, evan though no-one lived there. Half way along they realised the practicalities of building a road over terrain that a was underwater half the year and had no natural building material. So they stopped and went home. A few hardened Brazilian's were encourage to buy the land and made a go at farming cattle on extensive ranches. Tourisum then arrived in Brazil and the poor ranch owners were surprised to learn that there were "outsiders" who wanted to see the caimans, hawks and pools of dying fish and would pay hard cash to stay on their farms. The road had taken its toll on the minibus and after three hours we needed a new wheel/brake and suspension. Parking up at one of these ranches Pousadas, we waited outside playing with a deflated football and a manchy dog to keep on the move to keep ahead of the mosquitos and for the replacement transport to arrive. They were having a relative cold spell and at night the temperature dropped. We climbed onto the back of a pickup that had two rows of seats welded on the back. I didn't think we would need the cold weather gear again but out came the Alpaca hats,fleeces ,jackets,gloves etc. After one hour we were freezing may be the coldest I have ever been, probably with the wind chill factor. Lisa seemed very quiet and very cold so we insisted that she go into the cab as she was small and I was not sure when hypothermia could set in. Our room at the Puma Lodge was a concrete space with built in mosquito netting in the window space. Odd that it had no curtains ,nor the other rooms in our block, so you could see the habits, neatness or otherwise of your fellow guests. They probably thought us a bit odd as we hoisted up two mosquito nets from cup-hooks imaginarily fixed in the concrete rendered wall .(The Coppocks took all precautions against the little flying insects. No malaria here but Lyn, Harry and Lisa always came up in large itchy bites that would last for weeks. We had a little system . Cetirizine antihistamine 10mg every evening (I had brought 300 tablets), 80% deet in metal containers as over 50% dissolves plastic, applied to the skin not covered by trousers, long shocks,etc. All the lodgings had large eating areas with no windows but sheets of mosquito netting where the window normally would go. Some just a skeletal structure draped with acres of netting. The better the lodge the less the tears and holes.We were up early for the "Dawn walk". Following Alex our guide out of the Puma's lodge grounds, past the generator,rubbish tip and small swimming pool with a surface Amarda of insects and leaves. We walked for 2 to 3 hours. He seemed unintereseted and bored by the whole experience and this uninterest certainly transferred to us. The promised second guide did not materialise, so a line of eight of us tramped along the well trodden path with the most common sign of life , a cowpat. I can appreciate that you can't call wildlife to come and entertain the tourist but in the long spells of nothing , chapter and verse on the the natural cycle of the Pantanal and interesting tit bits of what tree this is and that footprint etc. We did see a turkey vulture nest in the nape of a wonderful strangulating fig tree and both Harry and lisa climbed up to see the hissing baby bird while the mum nosily jumped around from branch to branch trying to frighten us off. We retraced our steps back to the Pousada.We then had a 4 hour rest at 11am till the next trip. A trip in the pickup and a 2 hour trip a long the river to see Jaguars but because of the cold weather they were not showing. I felt sorry for the kids as they didnt undestand all this travel to see nothing with no real explaniation. They tried really well to do a bit of fooling around but in the end they just fell asleep in the boat and Lyn and I had a cuddle. The next day I got up for the Dawn walk at 5 am leaving Lyn and the kids in bed. We walked 1 km down the road to a bridge and watched an abundance of wildlife wake up. Caimen eating fish, egrets,hawks flying off to feed in clouds like bats in a horror film. We walked back along the road back to the lodge. After lunch we waited for our transport to the next lodge. I found Brazilian time frustrating . Three in the afternoon could mean 3pm, 3.30pm,4 or 5pm. Not being too Swiss about it but Brazilian time was just an excuse for disorganisation and disregard for others.We arrived at the Araracua Lodge later that day. What an improvement. A working ranch and a more professional set up than the boy-scout Puma. A glorious swimming pool with a reassuring hint of chlorine , no surface scum or dead insects and a faint ripple of movement indicating a pump filter. We were now in the High Pantanal. Drier , more cows less wildlife. It was made up by the new hot weather. In the aftenoon we lazed around in the heat and occasionally dipped into the pool watching the large blue Macaws fly overhead. Harrys pool game improved.In the evening we went parania fishing in the nearby river . We each had a bag of red meat, a bamboo rod, and a nasty looking hook. Within seconds the fish would pull at the meat and on every ten pulls of the bamboo, a beautiful purple top and yellow belly parana would be pulled out from the mucky water. "Watch the teeth." Once the mosquitoes got intolerable we paddled back to the river bank,walked back to the ranch over grasslands dotted with pyramidal termite mounds and pink trumpet trees , kicking dust in the evening heat and guessing how long it would take for the suns globe to disappear. Rice beans and parana fish for supper that evening , boney but very tasty, washed down by an iced cold beer. It was a great skill to have the beer just before it froze solid. The beer fridge would be set low at -3 to -4.5 degrees centigrade. I wonder at what temperature beer freezes. It would then have a thermos sleeve put over it to keep it colder for longer. We sat and chatted in the heat of the evening with the large aeroplane propeller fans rotating loudly above. Evan if the occasional mosquito got past the nets the downdraft from the fans would send it tumbling away. We had decided to change our last day which was meant to be a night camping in the wet lands . Looking outside at the hungry little ones stuck in the net looking in made our minds up. Also, to tell the truth we felt the tour could have been better organised with not so many gaps of 4 to 5 hours sitting around waiting for transport or something else. We had grown to like Alex. He was a very likeable character and several evenings he would entertain us with his guitar playing. But he could have entertained us more on the nature walks. Just a little thought like a circular walk instead of retracing your steps. More of the interesting trees of what they were called ,used for etc. May be evan an option for a big fish fishing trip or costing for one. I don't think anyone had sat down and thought of all the options available to them. We got back to Cuiaba and stayed with Joel at his very chateracterful small hostel Pousada Ecoverde.
Sun 15th August Today harry's wish came true. In the evening we went piraña fishing but instead of fish bait that you normally have you just stuck some very bloodily piece of meat and then the pirañas go mental. Mon 16th August We went piraña fishing again and this time I court two really big ones the size of my hand.
Pousada Canto do Arancua is a working ranch with corrals and baby cows and poultry and ranch hands who play the guitar and sing in the evenings. At last it's warm enough to lie by the pool to the sound of chattering birds with some geese honking and the occasional cock crow. The Pantanal wildlife, especially the bird life, is so plentiful along the Transpanteneria that it is frightening how quickly we take it for granted. At the first bridge on the road everyone clamoured to stop so we could take pictures of the hundreds of jacare (small crocodiles) lounging in the sun and egrets, herons and massive jabirus strutting amongst the water lilies. Bright, sudden, crested kingfishers and white headed fish hawks take occasional dives for the fish which bubble in their overcrowded panic as the dry season pools shrink ever smaller. At the next bridge the scene was the same and by the 5th bridge nobody exclaimed and the children didn't even bother to look out of the window. On one walk with Alex we were shown the nest of one of the hiss hiss birds of Peter Flemming's Brazilian Adventure (a type of small vulture). Will lifted Lisa up so she could see the hissing chick in the centre of a big spreading tree, whilst the indignant mother hissed even more loudly at us from a safe distance. This evening and yesterday we went piraña fishing from a quiet wide stretch of brown river on the Pousada property. The piranas like to hide under the water lilies and take the chunks of meat from the hooks with a quick but ominous shake of the line before you can jerk them up and into the boat. They are beautiful, yellow and purple with sparkles and a fine row of deadly teeth. The second night we fed one to a jacare and one to a fish hawk but still had enough to fry for supper. This morning's horse ride through the dry scrub land was magical between the pink and yellow trumpet trees; riding along with only the sound of the horses and the birds in the trees around us. "Hold your horses!" has a literal meaning on the Pousada we found when Will's horse bolted and everyone else's tried to follow it. Now the sun has gone down, the birds are silent and instead of their song there is the machinery murmur of the night insects. There is a fox who comes to visit the lodge at night and last night a racoon, so much bigger than I had imagined with a burglar's mask and a bad musky smell. There are vampire bats who come to drink at the swimming pool and when we walk out with a torch red jacare eyes shine back from every river and tiny green spiders' eyes shine back at every yard along the road. It sounds like a nightmare now I am writing it, but in reality it is all very beautiful and magical. We recommend Pousada Canto do Aranca very highly.