Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Pantanal

By Mark

We were headed for a small village inside the Pantanal, Passo Do Lontra. Just about a 250km ride from Bonito. We were told to visit this little village by a fellow Brazil Rider Valtemir who we had arranged to stay with on our return from our visit into the Pantanal. The Pantanal is known for high numbers of animals including caimans, anacondas and the one we wanted to see most the jaguar. Of course there are many many more species that live in this huge wetland area in the south west of Brazil.

We arrived in the village and met with one of Valtemir's friends who just so happened to work at the lodge that we rode into. Having troubles understanding one another Zemar introduced us to Fabion who spoke good English and proceeded to try and help us in any way he could, even taking us into the manager’s office to double check the price of camping as he thought it was a little high. This did not go down too well, I think the woman behind the desk was not very impressed by this or maybe she just hated her job but she had to be by far the grumpiest person we have met so far in Brazil. Fabion goes onto to tell us he knows of another camp ground in the village, maybe it is cheaper, I will take you there. Being a fellow biker himself I think he enjoyed taking us and trying to help. Well the other campground was the same price at 20 Reais pp (seems pretty standard for Brazil) but we now found ourselves camped on the banks of the Rio Miranda. A nice shaded spot under some large mango trees with a lot of bird life about. Fabion told us that we could swim in the river if we wanted to, we just had to be careful not to stay still for too long in th water as the Piranhas might start to bite...funny enough all of a sudden we didn't want a swim after all!
There was a very strange contrast here as our view was also of the bridge of the river. Down low you have the old timber bridge still being used by a few locals while high above you have this large concrete structure that looks completely out of place in this village with a dirt road leading on and off the bridge.

Fabion left us to it and said he would return later and let us know if he could try and organise a cheaper boat for us to have a look around in. Within no time, the setting sun brought out the mosquitoes in full force. I retreated quickly into the tent as our repellent just seemed to be attracting these little devils. Either that or it was my sweet blood they could smell from all my existing welts. After our week long stay in Bonito, by now I had a large collection of love bites still visible and with the itch never seeming to end I was not too keen on adding to these numbers. Well these greedy little bastards took it too far and when I went to have a shower I discovered a few new bites to add to the collection. I was ever so lucky to now find 3 bites on my balls! (sorry if this is offensive to anyone) After this I just wanted to hide away in the tent for the rest of the night. I did get out however and managed to find my way to the local bar (which was really just a shed and drowned by sorrows in a few beers, hoping to get enough alcohol in my system to forget the ever increasing itching or hoping that maybe I could just get the mosquitoes drunk and have them fall off me.
The following day we decided to just head straight for Corumba where we had another family awaiting our arrival. We would be returning this way (lucky mosquitoes) and we would then go out on a boat tour to try and see the elusive Jaguar.

We left early for the short ride which would take us through the southern part of the Pantanal. The road which is called Estrada Parque is all unpaved and in the wet season impassable. We were here in the dry and within minutes we were seeing a lot of the wildlife we had been reading about. There was no shortage of caiman filling up every waterhole we passed. The bird life here was also very impressive but with our loud bikes we seemed to scare more of the animals off. Every so often we would stop and take a few pictures and sit quietly and watch the wildlife. It was on one of these stops that we met George from Sao Paulo. He was here with a Biology class from the university there doing a week long field trip. We talked for a while learning a little about the region and in the meantime starting to melt in our bike gear. It is very hot here and in the morning it is not much better. We thought we were doing it tough but these guys were doing it tougher taking a day to walk 20km through this incredible wetland oasis. If it was not so hot it would have been a great way to see this area with only the noise of your footsteps to be heard in amongst the sound of the local wildlife.

We bid them farewell and hit the road again seeing plenty of wildlife ourselves still. From lizards to capybaras, birds, a deer and we think also in the distance a puma crossing the road. Not much further up the road we stopped on a bridge overlooking the wetlands with many caiman filling up the water. It was a great place to stop for some more pictures and also try a little filming. It was here that Sanne’s bike (aka Christine) did not want to go any further just as I was about to film her doing some riding by. I went to see what the problem was and she said it was the throttle, I grabbed it and gave it a pull and straight away I could feel that the cable had snapped! Bugger. Oh well at least I had a spare, some shade to work in and time to do it all. We pushed the bike off the bridge and down into some shade by the road side and started pulling the bike apart. It was an easy job but a time consuming one as the bike needs to be stripped down, bags off, seat off to take the tank off to access the carby. Being parked up by a swamp pretty much meant that we should definitely see some wildlife up close, this being very true and halfway through fixing the cable a caiman crossed the road not far from us, at least he kept his distance.

So with the cable sorted and the bike back together I took the bike for a spin to check it was properly adjusted and the throttle returning properly. It was and I thought we were good to go but the clutch on Sanne’s bike was not feeling good either and I decided to try and adjust it. Well the cable was having nothing of it and it snapped. Bugger! Again I had a spare but it meant stripping the bike down all over again. Still we had time but the heat of the midday sun was now very intense and with no food to eat and only warm water to drink I was starting to crumble under the harsh sun. I got the cable sorted and took the bike for another test ride, this time still stripped with only the petrol tank sitting in place. All was well and I got the bike back together as quickly as possible so we could hit the road again. I am glad I picked up those few extra spares in London as the whole time we were by the roadside only 2 or 3 cars passed us by and were not interested in what we were doing. It would have been worse if we needed to wave someone down and ask for help.

We hit the road at speed to try and get some wind in our jackets and cool down but in no time at all the road came to an abrupt halt. In front of us stood the Rio Paraguay flowing fast with no bridge to cross but luckily on the other side was a small punt that could carry us across the 200 metres wide river. It wasn't cheap at 15 Reais per bike. Once on the other side was a small village, run down with a few houses and lots of stray dogs hanging around, one looking very much worse for wear with one rear foot missing and by the looks of it no medical attention had ever been given to it. Also it looked as if she had just given birth to pups recently. She was not a healthy looking dog by any means, like a lot of the animals we have seen here in Brazil.

We were able to at least get ourselves a cold drink and for me an ice cream. I needed sugar and something cold to cool me down. It helped for a few minutes until we geared up again. We were now getting close to Curumba and the only thing in our way was a small mountain range but the road conditions had now deteriorated and it was a bumpy old road up and over the pass. The down side was steep and smoother until we hit the flat land and the corrugations grew in size fast. We were over them quickly and all I could think of was how good the beer was going to taste tonight when we got to town. We were stopped just outside of town and this was by the military running a checkpoint. Standing there, heavily armed looking quite menacing they wanted to see our passports and check the contents of our panniers. Well only mine, after they realised Sanne was a woman they did not ask anymore of her. The reason behind the checkpoint is that we were now very close to the Bolivian border and they check everyone coming through for contraband. A lot of drugs come through here and many people drive straight through the Pantanal with their illegal goods. We were given the all clear and headed for town. It was a great feeling knowing we had more kind people to take us in once again and made for an easy entrance to town with little worries having to find a place to stay the night. I could very easily get used to this way of life.

We could not find our new host's home or place of work but we did manage to find the local bikers group club house where Walter took us in and phoned our host Estela to let her know we had arrived. Walter and I think it was his daughter, Clara made us feel very welcome and we spluttered through conversation trying to understand one another. Later we were escorted off to Estela and Marcelos home where we took over their children's room for the next 2 nights.

The weather in Corumba was HOT and humid, not the best combination and this was only early spring. I don't think I could handle the weather in summer. We made the most of it though and we were even lucky enough to have our own chauffeurs, Jessalyn and Diego to drive us around town and show us the sights ending the day overlooking the Rio Paraguay, sun setting with a cold beer in hand. From here we had to race back to meet Estela as we had agreed earlier to visit her English school. We met her class mates who were all quite shy in talking to us and we tried to make them feel at ease and tell them that our Portuguese was much worse than their English, this still didn't help much but by the time we got to the third classroom there was a change and the students were mixed between 17 and 30+. This was the best class ever, the reason being the teacher owns the local ice cream parlour and invited us down for the last 15 mins of class to try out the freshly made ice cream. Oh boy was it good, I held back because we would later be meeting up with Walter again and the bike group for dinner. One young guy from the class did not hold back and went to town on filling his bowl with everything he could get in it, did I mention we got it for free? This guy was making the most of this!

We bid our farewells and were off next to dinner where we met many of the local biker group who meet up once a week for a bbq. Not so good for us vegetarians but the cold beer was great. We again stumbled through conversation with many of the guys and I really wished I could learn and speak Portuguese more easily. I know that they are a bunch of great guys who want to know more of our trip and I would love to know more about their lives but with the break down in communication at times really hinders getting to know everyone we meet along the way. We had a great night but with an early start the following morning we said our goodbyes and were on our way.

The next morning we were up early to head back to Passo Do Lontra via the same road we arrived on. We were hoping to see more wildlife on this fun short dirt road. At 6am the heat was already out in full force and we packed and headed off after saying goodbye to more good friends we had just made. A big thankyou again to Estela, Marcelo and their 2 gorgeous kids Enzo and Karen. We had a wonderful stay with you.

Down the road we were moving fast trying to get a breeze into our jackets and this was not working too well. We took an early stop to check out the wetlands. Well, it was lucky we stopped because the speed we had been travelling along the corrugations finally took its toll on 2 welds on my pannier frames and they had snapped clean through leaving one pannier hanging right off the side of my bike. I was very lucky that it did not snap or bend my subframe. I quickly whipped out a couple of ratchet straps and fixed it back into place the best I could and hoped it would be ok until we made it to our next host in Aquiduana about 300 km's away. This day we had only to cover just over 100 km's.

The ride was great and though we didn't see any different animals than last time we did get to see a huge gathering of caiman in a small water hole. It was hot, really hot out on this road and we decided to just get a move on. On the way Sanne almost ended up in a swamp! She hit a soft spot of sand right as she was about to go onto a bridge ending up with the bike getting out of shape and she came very close to the edge of the bridge. I think she just wanted to get a little bit closer to the caiman. It didn't seem to faze her though and we carried on to our camp spot and tried to organise the boat tour we didn't get to do last time. We met Fabion again and he told us he could take us on a sunset tour, getting to see the setting sun and the animals going about their daily routine as the night sky comes over the Pantanal and the Rio Miranda. When it actually came time to do the tour, Fabion was a no show. We spoke to his manager and she told us he was off somewhere and she would try to track him down. We were then told he was on his way. What a load of bollocks! He did a no show and everyone at the lodge could not really be bothered in sorting anything else out for us. Most of the staff here walked around looking like it was a total drag to be stuck at work and the idea of having to do anything was just all too hard. This left us with a very bitter taste and well I was really pissed off with the poor lack of service. We had money to spend and nobody wanted it. Not too often this happens especially when you are in a town that lives off of tourism. On top of this the bathrooms and showers were probably some of the dirtiest we have ever come across and when we went to have a wash we both got electric shock from the shower! We are not usually ones to moan over hotels but I have to say, this is the first time we have gone onto Tripadvisor and written a review. Note: don't bother staying at Parque Hotel Passo do Lontra if you're ever in that area.

The next morning we awoke, packed and hit the road. There was no way we were hanging around this place any longer. It was a shame to end this part of the trip on a sour note because everything up until this point, bike problems and all had been a fantastic experience. Unfortunately we had not been lucky to see a jaguar or an anaconda like we had hoped, but these are both very rare to spot, especially seeing as three jaguars were hit and killed by cars just that week... I would recommend anyone coming to Brazil to experience this beautiful place that is the Pantanal.

Passo Do Lontra

Setting sun over the Rio Miranda

Lots of these falcons around

The old bridge over the Rio Miranda, Passo Do Lontra

No shortage of these guys in the Pantanal

Apart from being a pristine wetland area, the Pantanal's biggest industry is beef cattle

A Cabybara making a hasty retreat from the water after hearing us coming

Nothing more fun than having to fix a bike roadside in the scorching midday heat

I was really enjoying myself, no really!

Crossing the Rio Paraguay, an expensive little river crossing

The view over Corumba and the Rio Paraguay

Christo Rei in Corumba (a smaller version than the one in Rio)

 Jessalyn and Sanne cooling down with a refreshing Aqua de Coco

Down by the riverside in Corumba

The wetlands of the Pantanal, Corumba

Watching the sunset and enjoying cold beer with Diego and Jessalyn

The local bike club

Our great hosts, Marcelo, Enzo, Karen and Estela

Our sticker made the cut for the bikie group wall of fame

Ooops, that is not meant to look like that!

The gathering of loads of caimans in a waterhole

Trying to keep cool in the midday heat

Capybara and bird


 Grabbing a wild caiman by the tail like my hero Mick Dundee

Donna Maria do Jacare blows in a horn and on cue wild caiman come out of the river to get fed.
She feeds them chunks of meat and they respond much like puppy dogs!


  1. Hi Mark
    Customer service in Brazil is very poor , we have a lot to learn , We know what you are talking about. Once I went to a hotel and they told me that they did not take any Brazilian tourist , can you believe. And when I asked for a tour price he told me it was too expensive for me , this was in Manaus. I did not get upset because we have choices so we moved on and stayed in another amazing place. This type of things should not happen as experienced travellers this should not put you off. I am so happy that you have chosen the right places to visit in Brazil. Enjoy your trip.

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