In the Pantanal, heavy rains spread out over a flat landscape, refilling and pooling each year to create the world’s largest wetland. During the rainy season from November to April, up to 80 percent of the land is covered in water, taking visitors off their feet and into boats to navigate the lush and lively habitat. We arrived at the end of October when the Brazilian sun worked efficiently to evaporate the standing water, leaving the land mostly dry and accessible. The signs of the regions cycle were evident in the night’s brilliant thunderstorms, ushering in the next seasons arrival.
To get to this rich world, we had to pay our dues and pay our guide. I know the topic of money is taboo but I will make a point. From Chapada, we drove back through Cuiaba and to Pocone, an entrance city just north of the Pantanal. Here we grabbed some water for the road and attempted to use the ATM. I bring this up because of the difficulties we had with them, including in the Airport. Despite alerting our banks ahead of the trip, it was hit or miss if our cards would work and when they did the maximum withdrawal was barely enough to get through the day let alone pay our guide. Between all three of us and several stops and attempts we were able to pull the money together, even utilizing some emergency American bills, it was a headache. I’m not sure what the fix is for this other than take every opportunity you can to get cash.
From Pocone we travelled on the bumpy Transpantaneira dirt road for a few hours to our first stop at the Pousada Piuval. For the next few days the travel time between pousadas (guest houses) would not be wasted as the roadside provided a continuous view of wild Brazil. Thick trees, brush and deep green wetlands were dotted with wildlife. Each bird was different from the next and handfuls of caimans lounged in shallow ponds ignoring the Capybara that rooted around equally oblivious to the toothy reptiles.
Though it was the “dry” season, there was still plenty of water which we payed tribute to with our sweat. Excluding jaguars, the true beast of this wild world was the heat and humidity. We had been “warned” that it would be hot and it was. Our Land Cruiser was without air-conditioning, and so it was windows down all day every day, leaving us looking worked over, windblown and dusty at the end of each journey. It was a glorious. We were saturated with the wild.
Though our car rides were full of excitement and unforgettable sights, it was the time spent at each pousada that was most memorable. We spent the days exploring the land, taking the wet air into our lungs and sampling the wild fruit that our guide Andre had pointed out. Not only did he teach us about the things we were seeing and eating, but he gave us insights into the history and culture of Brazil. He was an invaluable part of our experience in the Pantanal and our trip in general. He was part of our team and one heck of an entertainer.
Our mode of operation changed often, but we were constantly on the move. Whether on wheels, our own two feet, or on horseback we used all our awakened hours to see as much as possible, meaning up at daybreak, trekking during the peak of heat hours and roaming around in the evening before the storms rolled in. We were on the hunt for new sights and creatures, lured into dense trees by interesting roots, intricate leaves and animal chatter. One extra interesting component of animal life were the birders which were often as interesting as the birds themselves. Still and quiet, lugging around industrial like cameras and approaching their peeping and lurking with the utmost commitment and respect.
I will speak the truth and mention that we had conversations with the tour company prior to our trip, stating that we were up for the extra effort to see all that we could. Not knowing the environment we would be exploring, this was an over-assertion. It was hot. Plainly. Simply. Heading out at noon to walk on foot was more about conserving water and running for cover than catching a glimpse of the wildlife that were mostly sleeping and concealing themselves to avoid the extreme sunlight. “Do as they do,” is what I took away from the experience, or in other words take a midday nap, or just do less.
It seems that the world outside of Brazil firstly thinks of the city life of Rio de Janeiro. Our trek into the Pantanal may have been an atypical destination, but for me I believe it was crucial to taking in a broader view of the country. In many ways the Pantanal was what we expected from a vast wetland. We anticipated the peace and isolation. We expected to be surprised by the animal life, their proximity and the beauty of their habitat. We expected to be outside, getting physical and having nights of complete exhaustion and indulgence in meals as a way of refueling. But when you expect a great thing and it works out as planned, I call that a success. We hadn’t counted on such a great guide as the one we had nor could we have known the complete awe we would feel when we were actually in a place we had been dreaming about. The Pantanal was as great as we had expected and the feeling and completion of that was simply unique and cannot be replicated.
One final word, there are bugs. Ticks which we dug out three from our bodies and spiders which left a mark on one of our asses the size of a stick of gum.