Brazil has a territory larger than the continental US and planning where to go and which places to leave for another time can be challenging. To help, we input geographical and cultural data into our logarithmic weighted decision matrix. Unfortunately, Matt spilled beer on it so we decided to go the Pantanal because we might see Jaguars. Right!!
The Pantanal is located in the heart of Brazil, and happens to be near the National Park Chapada dos Guimarães. After some recommendations, we decided to include it on the front end on our trip to the interior.
To get there we flew from Sao Paulo to Cuiaba, a scorching city in the heart of South America. Though we landed at night, the asphalt jungle had stored the heat from the day and it was plainly yet delightfully warm. Our senses, still used to home, perked up and the travelers joy of new experiences heightened.
We booked a tour with Pantanal Jaguar Safaris (http://www.pantanaljaguarsafaris.com/) who were great to work with and accommodated our schedule and preferences to plan our 4-day trip. For our first night we stayed at the Hotel Nobilis and had an easy night of Caipirinhas by the pool, where we dangled our feet in the lukewarm water and mingled with the only other occupant that happened to be a rather large bull frog.
We met our guide Andre in the morning and packed into his white World War II style Land Cruiser. We traveled to our first scenic sight in the Rio Claro Valley inside the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park. After retrieving a key, which only licensed guides have access too, we entered the park and drove through dense but relatively short trees until we reached our parking spot, where we were the sole visitors.
The area is considered a sandy Sahara, high in elevation with little water. Andre described how the land was once a seabed and when the waters receded and the land eroded, a red sandstone was left behind. Life moved on and now the sandstone, where apparent was covered in Lichen. We hiked a short way to get to a good vantage point to view the valley, and with clear skies the effort was well worth it.
The valley is expansive and marked with vegetated peaks, and was dusted with a smoky haze that was likely from a sugar cane burn. The red sandstone jutted out from our little hill resembling the spine of a stegosaurus. This was Brazil, it felt like everything and it felt like this was what it always had been.
After hiking back down, we traveled to our next spot to take a dip in a natural river pool. The water was cool and restorative after our steamy sun soaked hike. We played like children, feeding fish, swimming against the current and climbing on tree roots to navigate the little water falls along the drainage.
Full contentment at our day’s events was reached when we traded up locations for a snorkel stroll down one of the sandy Sahara rivers. We walked barefoot from the car through tall bushes and dozens of jumping yellow grasshoppers to reach our entry point. Once in, we floated in a line, moved along by a steady current. The world below the water was shadowed and peaceful. Intermittent eddies of leaves and tree bark swirled up and brushed against our skin as we passed along. We stopped every now and then, waiting for each other to relate how awesome it was.
The riverbed was shallow except for a few spots where the earth dipped away suddenly, opening to a pool of tree roots that had to be navigated and swum around or beneath. The trip totaled an ecstatic 15 minutes and like all good things was over too soon.
We ended our trip in a deep pool where the current slowed and more importantly where our guide, Andre said we were done. Here we listened to the sounds of the park, hearing footprints of majestic animals that likely were not there. It was not just seeing the country, it was experiencing it and feeling it.
To end the day, we stayed at the Pousada Cantos da Mata (guest house), filled our bellies with amazing home cooked food and slept in an open air room listening to the sounds of bugs and creatures living out their nightlife’s. What a good day!