A VISIT TO BRAZIL'S PANTANAL
And the jungle's gems Bodoquena and Bonito
Brazil is well known for an abundance of attractive features. Perhaps the most unknown and interesting to the adventurous amongst us are the jungles and wetlands that cover large parts of this behemoth of a country. During our 12 days in Bodoquena, Bonito and the pantanal we hiked to caves and ravines, went piranha fishing and got eaten half to death by mosquitos.
Coming from Foz Do Iguaçu we caught a 13 hour bus to Campo Grande. Eucatur seem to be only operator running this route and charge about 150 BRL. Arriving in Campo Grande later than we were supposed to, we missed the early bus to Bodoquena. Facing a 9 hour wait for the 2nd and last bus of the day, we opted to take a 5 hour bus to Bonito (64 BRL) and hitch-hike from there to Bodoquena.
Bodoquena is a small town some 60km from Bonito and is entirely unspoilt by tourism. Here we stayed with our couchsurfing host, @marcanodmuno, for 6 days, our first ever couchsurfing experience. We split our time in Bodoquena between Marcus's house in the town, where we saw some beautiful rivers running through the surrounding woodlands, and the Refugio where he worked. The Refugio is a retreat in the jungle where people go to get away from it all and just be with nature. No phone signal, no WiFi and no stress. Just an array of spectacular wildlife and beautiful natural scenery to admire and explore.
The Refugio was a unique and genuinely wonderful experience for us. We made friends with a sassy blue macaw named Esmeralda, swam whilst surrounded by thousands of butterflies and hiked trough the jungle to caves and water pools that wouldn't look out of place in Tomb Raider. On our final night (whilst a little drunk) the chefs invited us into their kitchen to prepare a meal for the paying guests. With the chefs speaking equally as little English as we could speak Portuguese, I set the GoPro up in the corner of the kitchen and what unfolded was one of our funniest experiences so far. Oh and the dish turned out great.
From Bodoquena we hitch-hiked back to Bonito for a few days. Bonito is a tourist hotspot where everyone comes to go on tours to nearby rivers, waterfalls and other natural wonders. As it turns out, none of these attractions are actually based in Bonito, they can be up to 200km away. Bonito is just used as a base for expensive hotels and tour operators. Perhaps not expensive on a holiday budget, but with a backpackers budget it was unjustifiable for us to spend 600 BRL on a trip to a waterfall when we can see amazing waterfalls for free in hundreds of other places. So we decided to take our remaining budget for Brazil and head for a once in a lifetime trip to the pantanal.
The pantanal is a tropical wetland which covers an area bigger than the size of the United Kingdom. Renowned for its wildlife, in the pantanal you'll find hundreds of species of birds, monkeys, big cats and many others. We paid 1,140 BRL for a 3 night stay in the camping section of Pantanal Santa Clara in the southern wetlands.
Let me set the scene a little. A wooden hut on raised stilts surrounded by trees packed with monkeys and the 300km long, murky brown river Abraao with caiman crawling all over the banks ran along the bottom of our camp site. This was home for the next few days.
Day 1 kicked off with a jeep safari and a walk through the surrounding wetlands where we saw a whole bunch of animals (no big cats unfortunately). In the afternoon we were taken on a boat trip in the aforementioned murky brown, caiman infested river. Caiman aside, we were more concerned with the fact that the boat was made out nothing but tin and towards the end of the ride there were bolts of lighting cracking down close by. Such big bolts, bright pink and orange. As beautiful as they were scary. The storm made for an interesting night at the camp sight. The electricity went out and, given the hut had mosquito nets in place of windows, we had to spend an hour in the dark fashioning shelter out of blankets, sheets and anything else we could get our hands on.
Day 2 in the pantanal and we started our day with a spot of piranha fishing. Using rods made of bamboo with a simple line and hook (and 3 kilos of raw beef) we managed to catch 8 piranhas which the staff would later cooked up for our dinner. In the afternoon we went horse riding around the some of the lodge's 2,500 acres. This was Tilbe's first time ever on a horse and, after a bit of nervous start, she soon got the hang of it. Doubt she'll be signing up for any rodeos any time soon though.
For our third and final day we covered ourselves head-to-toe in mosquito repellant (not that it helped in the slightest) and headed deep into jungle for another bout of animal spotting. Although we caught a glimpse of a few different types of monkeys and other creatures, it was almost impossible to enjoy it fully as at any given moment in time we were surrounded by at least 100 mosquitos.
Although it was tough, demanding and exhausting, the pantanal was a very special experience for us and we would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to go to grab it with both hands.
Next stop, the border crossing to Bolivia.