Escaparse de Nueva York
* La Cidade Maravilhosa
* Bem-Vindo o Pantanal
* A Jew in Iguazu - part two. AKA, Adios a Argentina - part two.
* Adios a Argentina
* Two Touristy Towns
* El Chalten
* To the end of the earth
* Going South - too far South
* A Jew in Iguazu
* Graffiti 2
* Puerto Madero
* Graffiti 1
* ĄCorta mi pelo!
* Adventures in Recoleta
* Recoleta Cemetery
July 03, 2005
Bem-Vindo o Pantanal
I did it! I actually managed to make it out of Argentina - and no, Uruguay doesnīt count. Actually, as Iīm writing this Iīm back in Buenos Aires, and am heading back to the USA tomorrow. Iīm staying with a friend in Atlanta a couple of days and then heading back to New York. But stay tuned here - Iīm a couple weeks behind and plan on writing about the rest of my trip over the next couple weeks.
Anyway, after two flights and two stopovers I arrived in Campo Grade, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil (or Brasil, as they spell it over there). The only reason any travelers ever go to this town is to visit the Pantanal, a huge wetlands similar to the Florida Everglades. Itīs supposed to be a great place to see wildlife. Unfortunately I went in the dry season, when itīs harder to see a lot of animals. In the wet season, so much of the place is flooded that all the animals have to congregate in a much smaller area.
I went with a group called Ecological Expeditions, which as you can probably imagine, is neither terribly ecological, nor an expedition. They do, however, have a great scam. Thereīs a Hotel in town that got an official Hostelling International designation. And this Hotel is affiliated with this tour company. So when you call up the HI hostel in town, itīs actually Ecological Expeditions that answers (especially if youīre not speaking Portuguese). If, like me, itīs your first time in the country, you donīt speak the language, and itīs 11:00 at night and you want to get moving the next day, it turns out to be an easy sell. In addition, itīs a lot less likely that a place affiliated with HI and in the Lonely Planet is going to be somewhere dangerous or shady.
I went for three nights, which was one night too long. Itīs basically a big camping trip, not an intrepid expedition in the wilds of Brazil or anything. If for some reason I ever go again Iīm definitely going to do some shopping around, but for the circumstances of the time it was great.
We took a van for about four hours, and then switched to the back of a 4x4 for another 4 hours. The first animals we saw (while still on the Jeep ride) were Capybaras, which are basically the R.O.U.Sīs ("Rodents of Unusual Size? I donīt believe they exist.") from The Princess Bride. I stupidly didnīt take any pictures, thinking weīd see plenty more, but we didnīt. We then rolled into camp, ate dinner, and hit the Hammocks.
Over the next few days we saw some interesting animals, but more like one or two of each kind, not herds or anything (when youīre trampsing through the jungle with 7 other gringos you canīt really expect much else). Well, we did see herds of one animal - Cows. They seem to get along OK with the native animals (thatīs a Rhea next to the cow I think. They also all seemed to be really skinny and have a strange hump.
Other than the cows we saw these weird storks with white bodies and black heads and necks, flocks of Blue Macaws, Armadillos, the same raccoony things that were all over Iguazu, and these crazy Giant Anteaters that looked straight out of Dr. Seuss.
The folks have even managed to semi-domesticate some of the animals around the camp. Thereīs these eagle-like birds that hang out at the camp. They do a really weird mating ritual - I swear one even danced a Tango. Thereīs also a Green Macaw that hangs out at camp - and with a little food and coaxing will even come sit on your shoulder, pirate-style.
But the weirdest ones were the Alligators. Gators are all over the Pantanal - we saw literally hundreds of them. But thereīs a couple that hang out in the river by camp that theyīve managed to domesticate to the point where you can even touch them. Thereīs also an alligator skull on display around there, which is fairly interesting because you can see how pourous the bone is.
Other than trekking around trying to see animals, there were a couple other activities: Piranha fishing, which is basically like any other kind of fishing, and horseback riding. I loved the horseback riding. I havenīt been in about 15 years (and then only a few times), and I was galloping along like the Lone Ranger in about 10 minutes.
You know itīs funny - even the horses were Brazilian. What do I mean by that? Itīs the way they walk. They had that same dancing sway when they walked that the people in Brazil have.
Nobody walks like Brazilians - someone once explained it to me by saying "itīs like theyīre double-jointed in their ass." In fact, when I asked my Brazilian friends if I could pass as Brazilian just walking down the street, they told me that if I was STANDING on the street, absolutely (in fact, Brazil is like New York - pretty much anyone can pass. Itīs one of the reasons why Brazilian passports are the most often forged). But if I was WALKING, theyīd know I was a Gringo. My new goal in life is to be able to dance like a Brazilian - which I have been told countless times will never happen - but Iīd settle for being able to walk like one.
Piranha fishing, swimming with alligators, walking barefoot through the Brazilian Outback, all of it basically sounds a lot more dangerous and exotic than it actually is. We only had one real genuine scare the whole time - when a Brazilian Coral Snake - or Coral Verdadeira Micrurus Corallinus - managed to slither into the dinner hall. I actually spotted it, told the guides (luckily, one of the guides was a biologist and had a lot of training with this kind of thing), and they went to catch it. And they came back with a different snake, which they proceeded to tell was the most poisonous snake in Brazil (I think it was a Jararaca, or Lancehead) - youīll be dead in two hours if it bites you. We told them that this actually wasnīt the one we saw, and they caught the coral snake a bit later. After they caught it, they checked to see if it was the false version - and it wasnīt. Everyone then kept their distance - everyone that is, except the crazy Israelis Chaim and Shaul, who decided they wanted a picture with the thing. Hey, itīs not as deadly as the first snake - you actually have time to get into town and get to a hospital if it bites you.
The guides said there usually werenīt snakes - it was an unusually cold night and the snakes were looking for somewhere warm. But all the same, after that encounter I kept my boots on the rest of trip.
Posted by Moses on July 3, 2005 03:38 PM
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