Brazil (pantanal area)

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Iíve only been once in Brazil, for a week, in 1992, as part of a travel through Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, so I wonít say I know Brazil.

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Anecdote

Sneakily I swapped places in the train from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Puerto Suarez (both in Bolivia), as the window glass was missing. I felt some kind of pity for those people who came to sit on my original place, particularly when a heavy wind started, and when they got real problems with covering the window with plastic garbage bags.

The formalities at the borders at Puerto Suarez didnít took long. Specially as they didnít check visa or so. That needed to happen in the town of CorumbŠ, a short trip by bus, or faster, by taxi. CorumbŠ is a beautiful city with a Spanish atmosphere, high above a wide river. The people were way more commercially orientated than the Bolivians (except for the consul at Sucre). Many youngster offered excursions by jeep to the Pantanal, a swamp district near CorumbŠ.


With four others I went on such an excursion, after buying some food: bread, spaghetti, eggs, water and a local hard liquor called Aguadiente, according instructions in the book. The aguadiente is a gift to the driver and guide.

The way through te Pantanal was great. It started domesticated, but the further we went the more wild it became, less cows and more alligators. We went over the humongous land of some farmer, and then for hours off track. At a curve in the river we stopped, and both driver and guide tied some small tree tops to each other, unfolded a big plastic sheet over it, attached that to the ground and called it our tent. They preferred to sleep in the jeep, as they probably didnít like hunting alligators at night.


The next morning we had to rise and shine quite early. After a simple breakfast we were ready, and got the instruction to cross the small river. We all stripped until our underpants and put our cloths and cameras in plastic bags. The water was deep brown, as warm a fresh pee, and about 2 meters deep. Iím quite sure about the last, as I exactly not managed to walk over the floor without my bag getting wet.

At the opposite side, we dressed again, and our guide waited impatiently. Then we walked through terrain that you call land, if you wouldnít know better. Very swampy, my boots were constantly sucked into the mud, and got filled with water. Thatís a promise to have blisters. Another river to cross, and another, so we finally gave up undressing and dressing. The number of kilos mosquitoes per cubical meter was about the same as the rubber plantation I visited in Malaysia.

We heard some howling monkeys in a distance, sometimes spotted on nearby, and saw a baby nose bear. Its mother was calling for him, but kept away to a safe distance. We made some nice pictures of the baby bear, and some better pictures when the guide grabbed the poor little thing. The guide gave it a few squeezes, and it replied with a high pitch scream. Then its mother showed up to allow us a few nice pictures of her. How rude nature can be.


Whilst swimming over an open spot, we noticed a gang of capybaras. Thatís some kind of guinea pig, but much bigger, with the body of a beaver and legs as a pig. Illusive creatures. A bit further we saw an armadillo, covered with flees. These animals make a fine charango (a kind of ukulele). Then we spotted hundreds of ibises, with a red collar around their necks.

In the evening we returned to base camp.The driver had prepared some nice spaghetti. The sun went down (see picture) and we offered our aguadiente to the guide and driver. The guide went of to collect some green limes, which were abundant. The driver showed us his pride: he didnít had any luxury like airco or car belts, but instead had a very small refrigerator, only filled with ice cubes. These matched perfectly with the cocktail the guide was preparing: 1 part of aguadiente, zero parts of water, a spoonful of sugar, squeeze a slice of lime in, and another slice on the glass. Enjoy !

Now imagine: a deep red sunset in a kind of jungle, near a lovely river. Warm and humid. To the left some howling monkeys starting to give a concert, to the right another pack replying to the first. Some creepy things moving on the floor between your legs, and frequently this high pitch buzz of a panicking mosquito, who lost its way in your ear. Whilst a drop of sweat is slowly crawling down your temple, you take a sip of this delicious cocktail, known for its tropical aftertaste. Whilst the mosquitoes make holes over your entire body and suck you empty, you fill up your blood with yet another cocktail. After a few glasses you donít even feel these mosquitoes anymore. This is life.


The next morning I allowed my clothes to dry a bit more, because a big alligator (jacarť, Caiman crocodylus) was resting between our tent and the tree with my clothes, 15 meters further up. According to the guide there was no reason to panic, as it probably not hungry. Otherwise it would have entered the tent, without any problem as our sheet af plastic did not contain some zipper or anything. I wasnít the only one enjoying his breakfast in underwear.

The guide proposed to go fishing. He had lines with 5 hooks each, and attached them to rods. A bit of meat leftovers from yesterday, and into the river with the lines. Within thirty seconds I hooked a fish. First I had to give a good pull, and then lift it up. There were three fish hooked, one even at a hook without meat. De guide gave them a big whack with a stick, and told us to clear away. Piranhas (S. spilopleura) can even bit when theyíre dead, with some spasms, and can easily take a finger with their impressive line of shining teeth. Piranhas are about 30 cm in length, and about 10 cm in height. Their mouth isnít that big, but filled with little razors. Very aggressive, and thereís no stopping them. At shore they continue to flap from minutes, whilst their beaks continue to snap. Lethal characters.


The fishing went really well, we had over a hundred within half an hour. The river, which we so innocently crossed the day before, was loaded with piranhas. The driver knew how to prepare them, with a little lime, pepper and salt. No bad, but a bit tasteless. The spines were humongous, so they were easy to remove. After lunch we still had some 50 piranhas left. The guide threw them in the water, and asked us to wait. We somehow expected a wild spectacle with piranhas stripping their dead friends, but no. Slowly, two long dark alligators slid into the water, towards their prey. A few snaps and it was all over. A young alligator stayed behind, and after I made sure his mom wasnít nearby, I entered the water at save distance. See picture.

After lunch we continued our expedition. We decided not to cross any rivers anymore, for obvious reasons, as it would take so long to get our clothes dry ;-) The guide was full of compassion. We slopped through the fields to some colonies with beautiful birds. Even more ibises, cormorants, herons and storks.


In the middle of a lake there was this big tree in full blossom. When we approached it, it became clear that it wasnít a magnolia, but a tree loaded with storks, each at beak distance of each other. Whenever a bird gave up the fight to defend its place, another immediately filled up the empty spot. Lots of fighting, whilst there were thousands of similar trees in the neighbourhood, without any fellow stork. This tree had something which I obviously missed.


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