Panthers in the Pantanal

28 – 31 May 2014

To cut a long story short, I wasn’t lucky enough to see any. But I did see a bunch of other cool animals, which still made the trip to the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil totally worth it.

So, I said my goodbyes to Tracy, Daniel and everyone else, and headed off on my tour of the Pantanal. I had booked a 4-day tour expedition with Pousada Santa Clara, a nice lodge in the Pantanal that organizes a variety of activities for guests, such as river cruises, horse riding and night walks. My tour van came to pick me up from Miranda early that morning, and after about two hours, we arrived at Buraco das Piranhas, where a 4×4 was waiting to take me to Pousada Santa Clara, an hour’s drive away on a dirt road. On our drive in to the lodge, I spotted two caimans basking in the sun along the road and very excitedly asked the driver to stop the vehicle for me to take a picture.

My first caiman sighting! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

My first caiman sighting!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

He stopped, but not before laughing at my childish excitement and informing me that I would most definitely see many more caiman before my tour was over. I arrived at around noon at the lodge, and was quite taken with the proximity of the lodge to the river and the delightful sleeping arrangements. Pousada Santa Clara caters primarily to backpackers, and so, had come up with quite an ingenious idea for sleeping arrangements at a low cost – hammocks, strung up in a large airy room.

Hammocks at the chill-out area! (Our actual sleeping quarters looked far less cool) Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Hammocks at the chill-out area! (Our actual sleeping quarters looked far less cool)
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

(They obviously had rooms with proper beds in the other section of their premises, but who would pass up a chance to sleep in a hammock right next to the river?) Lunch was a most delightful spread of meats and veggies, which I ate while watching random birds flying around and squawking at each other.

Once lunch (and post-lunch relaxation) was over, it was time for my first activity of the tour – horse riding! I was quite excited, my last time on a horse having been about 20 years prior, when I sat on a horse while it walked lazily in a circle around its corral. We all got on our horses and after a few quick instructions about how to control the horse, we were off!

All geared up and ready to go! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

All geared up and ready to go!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I never realized how much I enjoyed horse riding, and got a total kick out of it. We even saw a cute little armadillo on the ride,

Armadillo butt! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Armadillo butt!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

as well as some cool birds

Red macaws perched high up in the trees Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Red macaws perched high up in the trees
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

so it was pretty fun.

This part was particularly fun :P Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

This part was particularly fun 😛
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Up on my high horse Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Up on my high horse
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

When we got back, it was time for dinner – another delish spread – and chilling out by the river for a while.

We took a walk around and spotted some geese Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We took a walk around and spotted some geese
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Wild boars are pets at Pousada Santa Clara Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Wild boars are pets at Pousada Santa Clara
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The green parrots got fed every day Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The green parrots got fed every day
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A very short while, because we started getting attacked by lots of mosquitoes and so retreated indoors to hide from the vicious bugs till our next activity.

Snapped a picture of the sunset first though Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Snapped a picture of the sunset first though
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Our activity for that evening was a night safari. We all piled into the jeep and headed off to look for the nocturnal creatures of the Pantanal. We didn’t have much luck seeing any spiders or snakes, but what WAS really cool was the caiman we saw in the river when we drove by. There were literally dozens of blinking red lights drifting right about where the river was supposed to be – the coolest (and possibly, creepiest) thing I had ever seen.

Those tiny red lights are caiman. Waiting to get you. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Those tiny red lights are caiman. Waiting to get you.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We got lucky on our way back and spotted a deer dashing away (from our noisy jeep).

Deer! If you can see it. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Deer! If you can see it.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Night safari over, we were returned to the lodge, where I spent some time chatting with the others about our trips and travels. Eventually, everyone else went to bed, but I still wanted to lie in the grass for a bit and do some stargazing, so Winfred kindly accompanied me to lie in the grass (on his sleeping bag). It was simply spectacular – thousands, if not millions, of stars, and it was such a clear night we could even see the Milky Way stretching right across the expansive night sky. Magical doesn’t even begin to cut it. Anyway, we eventually headed to bed, where I realized that sleeping in a hammock required some skill. It was all wobbly, and moving around and it was kinda tough to get into a position where I wasn’t draining all the blood from my legs, but I still managed to get some shut eye in preparation for the next day!

Day 2 began after breakfast with a boat ride down the river.

Delightful view Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Delightful view
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

It was a great opportunity to see some of the birds that hung out by the river,

Heron Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A heron of some sort
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Bird Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We saw tonnes of kingfishers, but they are so hard to photograph!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Monkey Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A pair of monkeys made an appearance
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and we even spotted a caiman basking in the sun on the river bank.

Caiman Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Caiman
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I was hoping to catch sight of the river otters that some others had seen on their boat ride the day before, but sadly, luck was not on my side. Still, it was a fun cruising down the river and I really enjoyed not being tortured by mosquitoes.

Our welcome party when we got back from the river cruise - really noisy hawk Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Our welcome party when we got back from the river cruise – an animal I christened the “Really noisy hawk
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

It was a gloriously warm day and the river looked so inviting that a couple of us decided to go for a swim. It was a great way to cool off from the heat of the day, and I didn’t get bitten by a single piranha, so that was cool. Also, now I have bragging rights to say I swam in a river full of caimans.

If you zoom in, you can spot a few caimans on the far bank! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

If you zoom in, you can spot a few caimans on the far bank!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

It was time for our jungle trek after that, so off we went, into a mosquito infested jungle. It was pretty fun, despite the relentless bites of mosquitoes.

This is why the Pantanal is called the wetlands of Brazil Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

This is why the Pantanal is called the wetlands of Brazil
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

One of the girls who went one the trek with us told me that my back was almost constantly covered in a swarm of mosquitoes, and I am quite sure I swallowed a few of them as well. Even the tonnes of repellent I applied (every 20 minutes) did not help fend them off. I guess that’s one thing I’m good for – being food for mozzies. We saw some more birds

Arara, also known as macaw are commonly found in the area Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Arara, also known as macaw are commonly found in the area
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and learnt a lot about a bunch of plants

And fungi too! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

And fungi too!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and trees whose names I’ve forgotten heh.

Except this one - the strangler, so named because it strangles other trees in the jungle :O Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Except this one – the strangler, so named because it strangles other trees in the jungle :O
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

After our walk, we watched our guide tame a wild horse. It was very intense. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

After our walk, we watched our guide tame a wild horse. It was very intense.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

That evening, we had a visitor to the lodge – a fox, which apparently turns up quite regularly to scavenge scraps from the lodge. It was very cool how it came up to within a few meters of where we were sitting and watched us hanging out.

What did the fox say? I forgot to ask. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

What does the fox say? I never found out.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

He was eventually joined by his partner, and they spent a while chasing each other around while we watched, quite amused by their antics. After a while, they wandered off, and we decided to go on a walk about the premises in the hopes of seeing some interesting creatures. We didn’t see anything, but we did hear a whole bunch of interesting animals that we couldn’t identify. Still, it was a good way to wrap up the day.

The next day,

after the sunrise Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

after the sunrise
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

we all got on our jeep and went off on a jeep safari, the highlight of which was to see the dozens of caiman that emerge from the river to sunbathe during the day.

Caimannnnnn! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Caimannnnnn!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Before that, we saw some cool birds,

YOU CAN, TOUCAN! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

YOU CAN, TOUCAN!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

but my word, the sight of all those caiman just calmly sunbathing without a care in the world was something else altogether. Very cool stuff.

More caimannnnnn! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

More caimannnnnn!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We returned to the lodge after that for lunch, and another quick swim in the river. Still in our swimming attire, we set out to go piranha fishing, the last activity for my tour. Our guide gave us a quick lesson in fishing piranha, and then, armed with our bamboo fishing rods, we started trying our luck.

Piranha-fishing poles Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Piranha-fishing poles
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Wily little buggers they were though, eating all our bait and swimming off quickly before anyone realized they had started biting! At the end of the hour and a half we spent fishing, out of the seven or eight of us, only one guy had managed to land a piranha. -_- still, it was great fun

The great heron watched us fail. Mockingly. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The great heron watched us fail. Mockingly.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and we saw two capybara chilling out by the banks of the river too!

Whatchu lookin' at? Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Whatchu lookin’ at?
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Having failed as piranha fishers, we returned to the lodge only to find that the other guide who hadn’t accompanied us had fished a good six or seven piranhas while we were gone, right at the lodge itself. Inspired by his success (and possible embarrassed at our failure) a few of us gave it another ago, but gave up after about 30 minutes, when the mozzies arrived at dusk to eat us alive. Dinner that night included the freshly caught piranha, fried to perfection and surprisingly delicious! The mozzies were driving us nuts though, so we retreated indoors and played UNO (the game that knows no borders!) till we felt ready to turn in for the night.

The next morning, I was wondering what I was supposed to do till after lunch, when I was supposed to leave the lodge, but when I found out the others at the lodge were going horse riding, I asked if I could join them. My guide very kindly allowed me to go with them, although I had already been horse riding once – super nice of him.

We spotted a caiman on our ride! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We spotted a caiman on our ride!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Giant ant/ termite nest. But sadly no giant anteaters :( Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Giant ant/ termite nest. But sadly no giant anteaters 😦
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Round two of horse riding was even more fun, when we got the horses to gallop for a while.

All set to gallop! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

All set to gallop!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Very bouncy fun indeed!

A young foal decided to join in the fun too Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A young foal decided to join in the fun too
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Well, horse riding was over all too soon, and we still had a couple of hours to kill before lunch, so I decided to wander around in the jungle close to the lodge for a bit.

Mushroooooms! (Of the non-magical variety) Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Mushroooooms! (Of the non-magical variety)
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

An emerald ibis! One of the most beautiful birds I saw. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

An emerald ibis! One of the most beautiful birds I saw.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

And what should I come upon but a dead caiman carcass, still fresh and not smelling awful yet!

So very dead. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

So very dead.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I decided it would be a good souvenir of the Pantanal to get myself some caiman teeth, and I set out to acquire a knife and return to the carcass.

This dead caiman had been pecked clean Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

This dead caiman had been pecked clean
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I also tried to get some support for my get-some-teeth-from-a-dead-caiman plan, but only Sumer, a guy who was also staying at the lodge, seemed interested, so off we went. Acquiring the knife proved slightly tricky, but I finally managed to borrow one from the kitchen, but getting the teeth was impossible – they were just too firmly attached. In the end, I cut off the nails of the caiman as a souvenir instead, and Sumer got one as a reward for his cameraman duties. It was a pretty cool way to end the tour and now I have a bunch of caiman claws as a memory of the Pantanal! Soon enough, it was time for lunch and then off we went, back to civilization. Of course, it wasn’t that straightforward, and the wheel on our pickup fell off about midway back to Buraco das Piranhas

The wheel that fell off. Right in the middle of the road. Because that's how we roll in Brazil. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The wheel that fell off. Right in the middle of the road. Because that’s how we roll in Brazil.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and we had to wait for another pickup to bring us there, but all in the name of experience, eh?

From Buraco das Piranhas, there were buses headed to Corumba, a town on the border with Bolivia, but since it was still bright and early, I decided to hitch a ride. After waiting for about an hour, I managed to get a ride on a truck transporting…cows! Any ride is better than no ride though, and I got on and things were going quite smoothly, till it was time to make the cow delivery. We ended up driving through some tiny dirt roads and spent more than an hour delivering the cows, so by the time we arrived in Corumba, it was well past sunset. The guy who gave me a lift offered me a place to stay in his mechanic shop for the night, but I declined in favour of a bed and a hot shower. I spent the night reliving the cool experiences of the Pantanal and the next day, it was off to Bolivia, destination: Santa Cruz!

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