Brazil: The Pantanal

When I was 16, I travelled to Brazil as part of a World Challenge Expedition through school with 13 other pupils and 2 of our teachers. I found my diary I wrote at the time recently, so have decided to edit it, remove some of the 16-year old me random thoughts, and write it up. To travel there, we had to fundraise the £2770 per person in the 2 years leading up to the trip and then plan and organise everything ourselves while we were there, supervised by our 2 teachers.

29/07/2003

We got off the bus at 7am in Campo Grande, and every tour guide in the bus station immediately crowded around us to sell us their Pantanal Package. So we waited and investigated and eventually chose one called Gil’s Tours. At least this one had electricity and hot water, unlike a lot of the other ones.

So Gil’s Tours booked us into a hotel and we went out for lunch to an all you can eat buffet next door. We had rice, beans, pasta, chicken and salad- it’s getting very predictable!

We hung around the hotel. We were supposed to be sleeping but watched Friends in Portuguese instead. We went for a little walk around Campo Grande, but apart from houses and a bus station, there isn’t much else. We had to get up early the next day for our trip so we went to bed early.

30/07/2003

After breakfast, we got on a minibus to the Pantanal. After a 5 hour drive, we got to pretty close to where we were meant to be stopping, but the bus driver was driving really slowly because he thought the suspension, brakes, or tyres were broken. So we had to stop in the middle of nowhere. The nearest bus station was in Campo Grande and there were clearly no mechanics, so he just kept driving really slowly.

When we got there, we found our accommodation, which was little huts on stilts. There were 5 of us in each room, and they were quite well equipped considering we’re far from cities.

We had lunch (more rice) and then lazed around in hammocks by the river. We didn’t actually go to the river because we’d seen alligators when we’d stopped the minibus, and weren’t actually sure what else was in there.

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Photo: Alligator in the Pantanal.

Later, we were taken further up the river on a boat. Its a bit jungle-like: the trees look different to elsewhere, there are monkeys everywhere and it sounds like a jungle. We were given rubber rings and floated back down the river to where we came from on those. It wasn’t cold, but we did get eaten by a lot of mosquitos. At one point, two rivers joined together and they had different coloured waters, which was interesting to see.

We got back to base just as the sun was going down and the noise of the insects and animals was incredible- you could see fireflies everywhere. Just before tea there was a power cut. Which was a bit freaky because we were walking on walkways on stilts, without a railing and they were slippy. Especially when you can hear all the animals nearby! We had more rice for tea!

31/07/2003

We got up at 5.45 and got on a boat so we could sail upriver. We saw lots of alligators and these huge guinea pig looking things, as well as some blue macaws, which are pretty rare. We got off the boat to do some trekking through long grass where we came across monkeys and howler monkeys.

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Photo: ‘Giant Guinea Pigs’ (any ideas?!)

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Photo: Day Walk in the Pantanal. 

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Photo: Lunch on a beach

We stopped for lunch on a little beach, where we were also allowed to go swimming in the river, jumping off the side of the boat. Apparently we were in the Pantanal in the wet season, which meant that the piranhas in the river wouldn’t feel the need to eat us unless we were bleeding. If we were there in dry season, they’d eat whatever meat they found, bleeding or not. We ate more rice and swam some more. Some giant otters swam upstream and made a massive noise. After we’d finished swimming, we got back on the boat and travelled to the only hill for miles and climbed to the top of it. This was surprisingly hard, as it was practically vertical and rocky.

We were able to watch the sun set from the top, which was magical. Until we realised we had to get down in the dark, which was quite amusing and challenging.

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Photo: View from the hill.

1/08/2003

We got up early again and had breakfast. Our team leader for the day was being a bit stressy, which wasn’t helped by the fact that 2 of the boys were doing everything slowly on purpose to wind her up.

Today we were doing a safari, so we got on a jeep. The leaders caught an alligator for us using a flip flop and rope (we put it back), which we held and looked at. We saw more of the giant guinea pigs, flamingoes, anteaters, pelicans and piranhas.

We arrived at a farm in time for lunch (rice) and lazed around in hammocks. Some people went for another walk, but some of us (me included) had the stomach bug from drinking water that wasn’t completely purified, so we stayed back.

Back in the jeep, we bumped into another World Challenge group, who were from London (and therefore had no idea where we came from). Apparently they didn’t do anything on their project and drank beer for the week. Pathetic.

We’re currently crammed into a tiny room where Becky is emptying her bag out (in the semi darkness) because she’s lost something, Dave is trying to teach Ruth how to fight but it seems Ruth is doing more running away than fighting and Andrea is complaining she hasn’t taken enough photos.

Dinner was still rice, but got more interesting when one of the tour leaders appeared with a 3m anaconda. We all had a look and some of us held it.

2/08/2003

We had a lie in! Well, until 6.15. We spent the morning making bracelets and necklaces out of Aloe Vera. Some people went piranha fishing, but I didn’t because I find fishing the most boring thing ever. The bracelet man didn’t speak english or portuguese (for some reason) so we ended up having to speak to him in Spanish.

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Photo: playing at our accommodation in the Pantanal.

More rice. With piranha this time, which is disgusting. We all had henna-like tattoos done and then got back on the jeep to take us to the bus. The drivers kept having races- apparently they don’t care what side of the road they drive on!

Then we had to get on a minibus to take us the rest of the way, my writing was really bad writing this entry because it was essentially a dirt track. There were lots of grass fires alongside the road because it had been really dry weather. We got back to our hotel in Campo Grande and had pizza at about midnight.

3/08/2003

We had to get up early so we could check the email about our trek and so we could start looking for camping for our main trek and accommodation in Rio. After 2 hours, we still didn’t have anything, so we decided we’d get the evening bus to Itatiaia National Park and get accommodation when we got there.

We went to have lunch at McDonalds, because it was a Sunday and nowhere else was open. The people behind the counter nearly had a fit when we said we wanted 14 meals. Then we had our photo taken with a Ronald McDonald statue and we went to catch our night bus to as close to the Itatiaia National Park as we could manage, a town called Resende. The bus driver got a bit annoyed because we asked him to drop us here as it wasn’t technically a stop.

Banner Photo: Touropia 

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