Safaris and pool parties
06.02.2012 - 08.02.2012
The next destination was due to be bonito but owing to the fact that we now had three dragoman trucks driving towards rio, we took an alternative route and headed first to the pantanal which is a wetlands area teeming with wildlife and birds, right up my street!
The drive to pantanal was going to take 1.5 days so we stopped en route for a bush camp. The drive days were pretty uneventful, I took the chance to catch up on long lost sleep. We bush camped at a motorbike race track in the middle of nowhere, which was slightly odd, but it did have the odd tap here and there so we at least could take it in turns to take an attempt at some kind of shower. This was much needed as it was getting hotter as we drove north and we were all pretty sweaty and feeling gross, even the truck had begun to smell a bit of "salty wee", not so pleasant.
The drive on the second day was pretty easy, stopping en route to pick up our guide who would stay with us for the duration of our time at pantanal. As we approached the pantanal we began to appreciate how great the next few days would be, we saw masses of termite hills, condors and buffalo and we hadn't even got there yet! We arrived at our accommodation in time for lunch, being ushered straight in to the restaurant to be greeted with the most amazing buffet food ever, complete with bbq'd meats, salads, pastas, rice and beans and an array of buffalo related products.
After lunch we sat with the guide who talked us through our itinerary for the next few days and we went through the usual process of signing or lives away before being shown to our rooms. It was at this point that we fully appreciated how amazing our accommodation was. We were staying on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, with amazing rooms, a swimming pool and lots of areas to hang out in hammocks, pure paradise!
After a quick dip in the pool (well it would be rude not to) we were all bundled off to talk about the jaguar project that the ranch is involved with. This got us all excited and optimistic about actually spotting one ourselves during our stay.
After the talk we all boarded the truck to head out on our first safari. We were explained the rules - basically shut the hell up, and with our guide sat up front on lookout we headed out to see what we could find. The whole place was teeming with birds of all different varieties but we also saw loads of cayman, sloping about in the rivers and many capyburras, these weird looking animals who are a kind of cross between a pig and a guinea pig and maybe a beaver, I'm not sure, look them up, they are very cute. We also saw crab eating foxes and marsh deer, we definitely weren't struggling to spot things but we were still holding out to see the big cats. I also wanted to see a taipur, but I think I was alone in that. We stopped briefly to take a walk for a while but as soon as we got off the truck we were attacked by more mosquitoes than i have ever seen. Our guide decided that it really wasnt worth being eaten alive for so we got back on the truck and headed for home. After a while we pulled to an abrupt stop And we're hushed. We were all eating in suspense, wondering what we were listening for when we saw an orselot walking through the bushes at the side of the road. Unfortunately he was too well hidden so pictures were impossible but finally we had seen one of the big cats, we would go back to the ranch happy!
Back at the ranch we had some pool time before being fed another amazing meal, getting showered up and insect repellented and boarding the truck again, this time for a night safari. This time we had one of the ranch workers up front with a huge flashlight and we were told that this time we were looking for eyes glowing in the light. All very exciting stuff. We saw some owls, some more foxes and deer and cayman before finding another orselot. Nothing new though and nowhere near as much as we'd seen earlier in the day. Towards the end I found jonny asleep on one side and tanith asleep on the other. It was a great safari but we'd all had enough and were ready for home. Back at the ranch we had a bit of a Girly natter over a few little vodkas before everyone left and it was back to the usual group. I decided to hit the sack so headed off about midnight to get ready for the next days activities.
The next morning we woke up and on the way to breakfast were faced with loads of rhea (ostrich like birds) and paraqueets just sitting around the ranch. Pretty special. After breakfast we split into two groups for the activities. I was going horseradish in the morning. It was boiling hot and I'm not the biggest horse fan so I wasn't really looking forward to this, but I donned my hairnet and helmet and got myself a horse anyway. The ride was lovely, through the trees of the ranch. Some of the others saw an anteater along the way but I missed him. I'm not great at this animal spotting malarkey. We took a break for a while and were introduced to the local cold mate drinking ritual. Mate is a herbal tea a bit like green tea which is drunk by everyone in Argentina and brazil. Most of them are hot but this one was cold and made up with lime water. We drank it out of a cow horn through a special mate straw which has a filter on the end to stop the leaves going up it. The ritual with the gauchos is that they pass it around and each person drinks the whole thing until it slurps. It's rude to give it back before you slurp. Then you hand it back, it's topped back up with water and it's passed to the next person. They keep passing around until you say thank you and then they stop. This stuff was so cold and refreshing I wasn't thanking anyone for ages!! After our little stop we headed back to the ranch. We had plenty of time to play in the pool now and chill before the afternoons activities.
Most people decided to pass on the afternoons activities owing to the heat, but I wanted to do everything so I stuck to the plan which was to canoe along the river. We got ourselves ready and took the walk down to the river, getting eaten alive as we walked. When we got to the bottom we got into our old French canoes and started our way up the river. I was in a canoe with carol and one of the locals and as there were three of us carol decided she didn't need to paddle. Very annoying, it was hard work!!! The river was beautiful and we were paddling through lily pads and spotting loads of birds along the way. We we're looking out for monkeys, and eventually we saw a few playing in the trees, but quite deep in so we couldn't see too well. After a short distance more however, we came across another one just sitting in the tree eating bananas. Amazing!! We had the usual water fight on the way back to ranch and headed straight for the pool again when we got back. The others had seen a family of armadillos walking around the pool whilst we were gone which is pretty cool.
We were all feeling pretty hot and lazy so we were literally dragged off for another lecture about the pantanal, before a mad dash for a shower before we headed over to another field for the BBQ that the ranch were holding for us.
We walked over to the BBQ expecting a quiet affair but we were faced with a really lovely set up. They'd put up little tables and chairs, a dance floor, sound system and ridiculously big BBQ and salads. It was quite impressive. We sat around drinking for a little while before our guide told us we had a little surprise for started. They took us over to the BBQ and started carving up some meat and handed it around for us all to try. It tasted like lean steak with a slightly livery flavour. They revealed that what we had eaten was cow heart. Then surprise number two came out, most of us had worked out what this was but some of the group were pretty grossed out to discover that we had eaten cow balls. They were big!! I had a slice but to be honest it was a pretty vile consistency so gave my leftovers to Chris to finish off. I'm not sure if I should be proud or disgusted by the fact that I have now eaten pig and cow ball on this holiday. A few more drinkers and then the real food was brought out, it was the best ever, so tasty! Whilst we were eating the ranch workers showed us the traditional dance before finally getting us all involved. A few attempts at bowing the horn they use to call us for dinner and the party was in full swing. We carried on at the field for a bit before taking it back to the ranch. This is when things got a little out of hand, there was dancing on tables before a bottle got broken and smashed on Esther's foot. Much arguing started an I decided to slope off to the pool to chill out with the boys. Bad idea, not only did I get eaten worse than I could ever have imagined, everyone eventually made their way to the pool and started dragging everyone in fully clothed. After a bit I headed back to my room to find that Ellie had lost the key and we were locked out. After much searching we gave up and ended up with 7 of us sharing the boys room. Not the best nights sleep in the world!
The following morning there were a few sore heads but we were all up and ready to get out on the boat trip that we had planned for the day. It was really beautiful and relaxing travelling up and down the river. Lots of cool birds including one little with really long legs and massive feet that just walks around on the lily pads. I got a bit obsessed with them.
When we got to the end of the river we set down our anchors and tried for a spot of piranha fishing. We basically had bits of bamboo with fishing wire and hooks attached to them which we loaded up with small pieces of beef and dangled in the water. I didn't actually catch any myself but the group caught loads and at one point someone dropped one at my feet and I totally freaked. You do not want a dying piranha snapping at your ankles, that's for sure!! Funnily enough the fishing cleared everyone's heads and we were all back on form. Just enough time to head back to ranch and have lunch with the other truck who had just arrived before getting back on the truck bound towards bonito.
I left the pantanal literally covered in mosquito bites, my knees and legs looks properly diseased, I was officially minging, but it was all worth it, it was and incredible place to stay. We saw so much wildlife and had a lot of fun together. This leg of the trip was just getting better and better!!