Full off expectations about seeing wildlife we arrived in Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso, the northern entrace to the Pantanal. The Pantanal is next to the Amazon the largest ecosystem in Brazil and the world’s most dense flora and fauna ecosystem. It is the largest wetland in the world where there is a dry and a wet season. We visited it in the middle of the dry season with temperatures up to 40º celsius.
After a night in a very basic hotel we started our tour driving to Poconé to follow the ‘Transpantaneira’, a mad project from the military junta during their control from 1964 – 1985. The idea was to create a road right through the Pantanal. But they did not take in account that the Pantanal is half a year completely flooded in the wet season. After a few years, coming to their senses, they stopped building the road having reached 147 km of road and bridges. Today it is an excellent way for tourists to explore the Pantanal.
In Pocone we transferred to a small VW-van with our tour guide Marcos behind the wheels and a lovely German couple, Knut and Regine in the back. We slowly drove along the Transpantaneira to see the wildlife and picked up a japanese, Mari, who was brougth from the airport of Cuiaba by a speeding car. Following the Tranpantaneira we saw very beautifull trees with only flowers, no leaves. They had a very bright yellow, purple or white flowers.
Further down the road we saw a lot of different birds, caymans and very lucky, an yellow anaconda crossing the road. After three hours driving we reached our destination were we would spent the first night, Pousada Canto do Arancuã.
The pousada had basic comfort, but the people were hospitable and we enjoyed our delicious ‘suco da limaõ’ during a good dinner buffet. After dinner we went with the van for a night tour. We drove along the road with a very bright light lighting up the eyes of animals who where nocturnal. The red eyes of the caymans were particurly easy to see, they lay still in the river and small ponds on the edge of the water waiting to catch an animal who wanted a sip of water after a hot day. Other animals we saw were crab eating foxes and an ant-eater between the numerous termite-hills.
The next morning I woke up early before daybreak for a quiet river tour in a canoo. The german couple, the japanese and I went with Marcos to a river near the pousada. Peddling quietly along the river we saw beautifull birds, an otter and ofcourse caymans. Marcos let us taste a few chunks of bark of a river growing tree which contains quinine. This was very bitter. After breakfast we headed up with the van along the Transpantaneira to our next destination, Pousada Piuval.
Here we started in the afternoon with a boat tour on the nearby lake. We joined an other group and went with three motorized boats on the lake. We stopped near a tree full with birds. Here our tour guide decided we should have a closer look at a cayman, so he held a stick with a fish at the end close to our boat. A cayman, probably used to be fed this way, approached our boat and jumped to catch the fish. I nearly wet my pants, because the cayman missed the fish and almost ended up in our boat. The third time, to our relief, he finally took the fish. After that we went to another part of the lake for piraña fishing. We all catched a piraña and my vegetarian girlfriend loved it so much she was hard to persuade to stop fishing. Our guide showed us the menacing looking teeth of the piraña, a dentist would be proud off it.
The next day we went for three hours of horse riding. On very tame horses the whole group rode through the surrounding area, occassionally through low water ponds. Most of the group including me had their first horse riding experience and I loved it. We stopped after an hour to see caymans, which again were fed by our guide. We all had our Kodak moment to be on a photo with the caymans and then headed back for lunch.
Our guide Marcos left for a well deserved couple off days off, he was already working for 26 days non-stop. A new guide, Ciago, a biology student who was born in Mato Grosso and studied in the USA, would guide us. In the afternoon we did a hike with Ciago to a high platform where we could see the beautifull surroundings. After that we went to a pond where a giant otter mother was guarding her nest. The giant otter was very vigilant which made it easy to see her. The sun set and we headed back to the pousada. On the way back we unfortenately experienced the other side of the Pantanal. We were stung by a lot of mosquito’s. At the pousada we discovered our total of mosquito bites had tripled.
Nonetheless, the next day we woke up early for our last hike through nature. My girlfriend had catched a cold, so the enthousiasm was a bit tempered and after a three hour hike we were glad it was over. A van took us and the japanese girl back to Cuiaba. Because we had it with the heat and the itching mosquito bites, we decided to go back a day earlier then scheduled to spent our last days on the beach in Pipa.