Now this was something we hadn't planned, or even heard about before: The Pantanal. This is the place to see animals, as opposed to the Amazone where you can only hear them. This is the world's largest tropical wetland area. And it actually is really huge. We heard it's home to various types of animals out there to get you. Luckily we have a car to climb on in case of emergencies.
We were staying at a big ranch in the south of the Pantanal: Fazenda Santa Clara. The only way to get around here is with a guide. Else you risk getting kidnapped by Pumas or eaten by millions of Mozquitos. Doing everything with a group of people made us a little reluctant. We didn't want to end up in the selfie stick jungle like we did at Cristo Redentor and the Cataratas do Iguaçu. With the slogan 'It is touristy for a reason', we go for it anyway.
The road towards the ranch, the Estrada Parque, was in good condition. The first bridge of the lot felt a bit wobbly, but it just took some getting used to. No idea what kinds of creatures hid in the water underneath this bridge, yet...
The trick on this road is to spot as many animals as you can while zigzagging, avoiding any obstacles. They can hear the car coming, so it's pretty hard. One of our favourite animals of this trip is the Tucan. Whenever you get close to one, it tries to hide behind a branch of a tree. Now this is a rather difficult job with such a giant, orange beak.
Arriving at the Fazenda, we were astonished by the many bird squeeks we had never heard of before. A constant joyous song of natural sounds stayed with you at all times. Macaws everywhere. Our guide, Tom, welcomed us and showed us around. We initially booked a camping spot, but some things got 'blown away' there, so we got a dorm room. This gave us free access to the swimming pool as well. And we like free swimming pools a lot.
To get a good feeling of the wetlands, a boat trip took us into the heart of it. After a while we spotted three Capibaras grazing somewhere along the shore, minding their own business. These animals are humongous (up to 134cm), somewhat cute, and really funny. Suddenly Babybara decided to jump ungraciously into the water, while making a short, highly pitched shriek. If it weren't for the calm mother that was left there grazing, you'd think it was an actual Capibara suicide attempt.
The Pantanal is full of Caimans. About 10 million of them. Tom showed us how to catch a piranha with just a bamboo stick and some meat, and used it to feed a Caiman. He just became a little cooler than Indiana Jones.
In contrast to a boat's engine, a horse is a great way to get closer to animals. I enjoyed the first two minutes on the one below. It turned out to be quite the stubborn horse. While Jildou was happily galloping away at insane speeds, I ended up somewhere alone in a swamp, because he spotted some of that tasty grass. I knew something was up when the gaucho assigned me the smallest horse. When the horse started to walk a little faster, Tom told me his nickname: 'Break nuts'. Go figure.
A night time safari allowed us to see many more animals which were hiding during the day. This huge Tarantula was hanging out on a piece of wood alongside the road. This photo is the closest I could get without actually sticking the camera into his face. Try count those hairs.
Sometimes I feel a bit naive. This is one of the most venomous snakes, the Coral Snake, photographed up close.
Unfortunately the nightly swim tour was cancelled.
Next day morning, lots of rain. Not that we were surprised in the middle of these wetlands. It did however mean that many animals were hiding. After getting soaked while hiking through swamps and forests, the sun showed itself again. Armed with the same rods and meat which Tom used before, we gave fishing for Piranhas a go ourselves. At least they weren't hiding from the rain.
It's actually a whole lot of fun! And the good thing is, they even tasted good too. We caught 13 of them, put them on a stick, and Tom prepared them for us back at the farm. These fish were tough ones. Some hearts kept on beating after killing them. And yes, they still look really angry on your plate.
Tom has been an awesome guide, trying to make everything as special as possible. After sixteen years he knows his way around the Pantanal. He has plenty of knowledge about plants, knows bird names in Portuguese, English, Hebrew and I guess Guarani. Without him the experience wouldn't have been as good.
The visit to the Pantanal was totally worth it. We met lots of great people, played drinking games, danced samba till late, got some 7-day tattoos from weird fruits and made bracelets from leaf fibers.
Sometimes it is hard to look through the wall of tourists and see the real thing. But when you do, and when the setting and the dynamics of the guide and group are right, it is amazing.