Deep in The Pantenal

Our first day in Pantanal consisted of a transfer from Campo Grande with our own private car driven by the wonderful Sandro. It was a 4 hour trip but with Sandro the time flew as he was pretty much a tour guide as well. On the trip in, we managed to see 3 makaws, a few rheas (Brazilian emus) and 3 dead giant anteaters to name a few! We were also informed that our next stop, Bonito was a busy place and that you needed to book tours for all the top spots. No problem says Sandro who took out his phone and called a friend and had organized a tour with a good company for us within minutes.
The Pantenal is an area in central Brazil bordering with Paraguay and Bolivia and there are plenty of rivers but not too many roads in the area.  It is different to the Amazon as it is more of a wetlands, and in fact during the wet season it is almost completely under water.  We were lucky to be going during the dry season and so the animals should be more concentrated around the available water so seeing them should be easy.  We noticed a lot of farmland as we entered the area and the battle between the farmers and the ecosystem was obvious.  The land is all privately owned and at the moment government regulations dictate that 30% of the land must remain untouched (not a lot) shame really.
On arrival at the Jungle lodge which consisted of a group of huts raised on stilts right on the brown river, we were blown away by the sheer wildness of the Pantanal. Our first activity for the day was Piranha fishing using bamboo poles and cows’ hearts. It was a really fun experience and we managed to catch 2 piranhas, a cat fish and a pacu. Our guide, Shnieder (so named as we couldn’t pronounce his Brazilian name and he was wearing a Dutch football jersey with Shnieder’s number and name) informed us we would be served said fish at dinner. They were really quite tasty though not a lot of flesh on them and lots of little bones.
After fishing we were herded into a boat for a night safari up the river with 5 fellow Brazilian backpackers and we were shown some of the wildlife of the Pantanal. We were very fortunate as the others were all avid birdwatchers and had a book of all the different species and as Schnider pointed out species they would pass us the book which conveniently had a photo and the English name. As it turned to night he got out a torch and showed us all the Caiman (crocodiles) in the water as their eyes reflect the light. We saw about 15 sets of red eyes and even got glimpses of some of them before they went underwater.
The next day we were up nice and early for a Jeep safari. We managed to see lots of Caiman out sun-baking, native deer, capybara (giant water rodent but actually quite cute!) goanna, wild pigs and a native raccoon along with so many more birds. We actually got to get out and have a walk through the Pantanal as well which was great, hunting for howler monkeys. Unfortunately we heard them, saw their poop but just not them.
After lunch we were then informed we would be floating down the river……. Even though we had seen so many Caiman the night before and caught Piranha there as well we were assured that it was safe. It was actually the giant otters you had to watch out for as they could get quite aggressive. We were pretty adamant we were not going to do it but got bullied into it by the others. It was quite disconcerting to know all those nasties were out there but you could not even see your hand just under the water. Needless to say we made it back in one piece.
After that we went canoeing down the river. It’s hard to describe but the Pantanal is just so dense and wild. Being on the water and being able to get so close to the bank was awesome. It felt as if there should have been anacondas everywhere! There probably were but they didn’t show themselves to us.
We had the option of going on another night safari which we were very glad we did as we finally got to see the howler monkeys. It really made my night.
On the last day we were again up early and went on another boat trip to the only hill in the Pantanal which we climbed. It was actually pretty tough as the track went straight up and we even needed ropes at times. Coming down was much harder than going up. The view was great and apparently in the wet season the water covers all the land leaving only the tallest trees exposed. The water level rises by 3 metres. The Jungle lodge then is actually sitting just above the water and the always between the buildings come into their own. Hard to imagine. 
The Pantanal for us was a really awesome trip. You definitely felt as if you were deep in South America. Not only because we had travelled so far by bus but the feeling of being in a very remote part of the world was very evident. S

   
Our bedroom for the stay! Just 30m from the river with wildlife all around us.  One morning we woke up to the sound of the howler monkeys all around us it was pretty magical.

 
Sarah proudly displaying her piranha.

   
You can see its teeth, a pretty ferocious fish.

 
Fishing by the banks of the river right outside the lodge

   
The colours of the birds everywhere were incredible 

    
The capybara, we did see a family crossing the road but were too slow with the camera

 
A goanna sunning itself on a tree

   
A Coati which was similar to a raccoon 

 
We were very lucky to find this pool of water with at least a dozen Caiman sunning themselves

   
This heron was a common sight along the banks of the river and our guide pontes out a whole variety of birds for us

 
The river was full of debris from the banks but as you can see it felt as though we were in the Brazilian jungle.

   

 
The view of the only hilł in the area and then the view from the top where you can see the river meandering through the marshlands.  You can also see how 3m more of water would cover most of the land.

  

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