The Search For Wild Life

We’ve been seeing so much I think I should write something here. This is my kind of pace, my head full of all that we do in a day and my body tired from doing it! I have to write it down before I forget it.

From Iguazu, we split with Ivan to head up into the heat of the southern Pantanal while he headed to the coast. The thought of drifting the spring fed rivers in an aquarium setting had me chomping at the bit to get there. But first we had to cover the miles northward to the Mato Grosso do Sul region of Brazil. We spent a day & a half mainly driving to get there through endless fields of corn, soy, cows and rich, red earth. Every few miles, a processing plant for them. At first we assumed it was for ethanol because they use a lot of it here but we found out from a local that the corn goes to China- a LOT of corn! And the ethanol is made from sugar cane, of which we saw a bunch of that growing too. And the cattle, well that is just prevalant down here. When we thought of Brazil, we never thought it was mainly a country of agriculture. We can witness deforestation first hand here. It makes us sad. Fortunately, there are still a lot of beautiful places to visit and wildlife to see.

We got to the little town of Bonito, Brazil where it’s all about play. The town itself didn’t draw us much but the surrounding area did. Full of natural springs, they are mainly located on private ranches that have a portion set aside for tourism and the other for crops & cattle. Although we dislike tours, you need to be on one so you can drift for hours on the river and be able to get back. The Rio da Prata is a famous one and we headed there the very next day.

Set on a beautiful working farm full of colorful birds, peacocks, horses, cows, cats and an armadillo, you get geared up with a wetsuit and mask, then take a little walk through the farm before heading down to the river. You see the gardens where all of the produce is grown, the dulce de leche room where they make it themselves and then the beautiful patios where you’ll be pulling up your chair for the big lunch later on! We walked a jungle trail before slipping into the water with all the fish. Because the springs are rich in calcium carbonate, it serves to bind any solids in the water rendering it crystal clear. We drifted along for 2 1/2 hours just looking at fish, the aquarium plants and thinking back to when we had our fish tank as some of the little tetras were the same! We just loved it. I always like it when people are doing and appreciating something so simple and yet so enjoyable. About 10 of us floating down at our own pace, heads in the water, peacefully. It was even fun to look up at the jungle above us.

Then we got out happy, chilled, hungry and ready to strap on the feedbag. On the shuttle through the farm fields back to the main building from the river, we spotted our first anteater. I just love these creatures but of course we couldn’t get the kind of views we wanted to since we were on the shuttle. Good thing that a buffet farm lunch was waiting as part of the tour. It was fantastic and we tried all kinds of freshly made dishes and ate so much we didn’t need dinner that night. After lunch, we took a walk along the ranch road and saw all kinds of neat things like another armadillo, rheas, owls, the most curious cows we’ve ever encountered and a big open sky.

Most curious cows we’ve ever seen. They followed us wherever we went

We camped nearby and got up early to visit the Buraco das Araras, one of the world’s largest sinkholes. The story is, a farmer from the Pantanal needed to move south because he had two young boys that needed to go to school. So he bought a small ranch outside Bonito and no one told him it had an unusable sinkhole in the middle and he didn’t find out until after the purchase was settled. Well it was being used- as a garbage tip for the locals. It happens to be a huge nesting & roosting ground for the scarlet macaw. At some point there was pressure to protect it, so he arranged to have all of the trash removed from the sinkhole which involved the military due to the challenges it presented. Then it was preserved for the birds and tourists to enjoy and he in turn makes money off of it now. We arrived in the morning to view the birds flying from one side to another and back again. At the bottom of the sinkhole is a small pond with a lone cayman in it. He’s been there for many years, no one really knows he got there but it is known that animals used to fall into it so this is a possibility. He doesn’t move much in order to conserve eneregy but he was plenty fat so is apparently eating. It was a neat thing to see despite the fact that it was a bit pricy. Everything in Bonito is a bit pricy but unique just the same.

We’ve done a lot of ocean drift diving in our time but have never gotten to float a shallow river where you can actually see as clearly as you can in tropical water so this was new and we really enjoyed it. So much so that we did it again at the Socori River too! It was even clearer and more colorful. It wasn’t as long of a float, there was no big lunch waiting and the grounds were nothing like those of Rio Prata, but the underwater plants were great and the river was even healthier and the colors on the bright sunny day drove us nuts.

We moved northward a little bit to stay on a little ranch in a rural area. We use the app I Overlander to find cool places to camp and there are some real gems on it. This was one. It had a trail that followed a beautiful multi tiered scalloped waterfall and a whole bungalow that we could park beside and use as we wished. We stayed a couple of days doing a bunch of internet stuff, took a nice run on a country road with toucans flitting overhead and stared out into the fields looking for the anteater that sometimes visits. But he never came. In preparation for hopefully being in Patagonia this summer, I booked the O Trek in Torres Del Paine NP. It is a 7 day backpacking loop and we’re pretty psyched to do it along with a couple of other shorter ones that don’t need quite as much early planning. I also did some cooking/baking. I wouldn’t say the shopping here is really yummy. I go in circles in the produce area while Jon does the same in the meat area. There are a lot of things that we just can’t get just like any different country we visit. We aren’t starving but we miss our favorite foods. Like piles of spinach and mescun greens, decent humus, bread etc. Some say “everybody eats” but what they eat is another story. Jon spent time working on our lithium batteries because for some reason the cells were unequal so we haven’t been able to get a full charge but that is pretty much fixed now. And we watched the new film Wild Life. The story of philanthropists Kris Tompkins and her late husband Doug who dedicated a good portion of their life & money to preserving the very places we hope to visit in the coming months- well we already visited one, Ibera which was wonderful. It’s such a moving story.

Then we moved to the Southern Pantanal in search of a jaguar. We parked at the Jungle Lodge in the little village of Paso do Lontra right on the Miranda River and plugged in to AC because it was going to be 100 degrees for 3 days. On the recommendation of fellow travelers, we booked a guide, Tony who has a self proprietor tour company called Why Not Pantanal, to take us in a small open skiff up the river searching for the elusive jaguar. People see them all the time and this area is known for them, hence the tours. In all the years and the thousands of miles we’ve hiked and all that we’ve seen, big cats still elude us. We’ve seen a bobcat take down a deer but never anything bigger. Well we thought for sure our luck would be changing on this trip. Ha! We got up at 4am 2 days in a row and spent over 12 hours total on the river (no exageration) scanning and searching all 3 of us and no jaguar. We went way up one direction and then the next day way downriver. What it would look like is it would be either out on a little sandspit or just lying on the bank in the bushes or under a tree, often looking out to the water. We’ve seen all the pics, we knew what we were looking for but even with our guide with his binocs and us with ours, no big cats, just prints of big cats. Teaser! Despite that, the sunrise was crazy beautiful, starting out in the dark both days and watching the planets disappear as the light filled in- it reminded me of passagemaking. The birds were over the top plentiful and the variety was truly stunning. The trees are in full bloom of yellow & purple flowers and I kept wondering if the birds know that they look like ornaments on them. We watched a big tapir swim across the river in front of us and capybaras too. We enjoyed this time and the things we saw even though we were dissappointed to not be able to spot a spotted cat. One might wonder why the boats don’t have awnings in a place that gets so hot but none of them do. Both days we got back and tucked into the AC until the sun got low. Then we could go out for a walk. It was a neat area although we wouldn’t want to live there because this is the winter and it’s already 100.

River boats used for fishing the Miranda River

We departed Paso do Londra with it still tugging at us because we enjoyed the river so much and we almost scolded ourselves for focusing so much on seeing a jaguar when the spectacle was really the birds and the beauty of the river itself. One thing about Brazil is you feel like you can’t do any of the best things on your own. Either it isn’t allowed without a guide because it is park or it passes through private land or logistically, like with the rivers, it is hard to set it up so you can get back upriver again. It’s pretty rural in a lot of the parts we’ve been to. We have our packrafts but can’t figure out how to drift on our own here.

Love the square patches on their legs!
The way the hair lines up to make a perfect pattern just blows us away!

We also love anteaters and we still hadn’t seen any more. But there’s a very rural red dirt road nicknamed Anteater Road that heads northward some 220km and travelers rave about the wildlife sightings on it. So we tanked up & headed off to drive that road and be on our own. There are several ranches, mostly just cattle in fields and remaining forest so far untouched but it won’t last much longer. Very little traffic during the day and nothing at night. It felt so good to be just us. We spent 2 days ambling along spotting all manner of beautiful creatures, including 2 very meaningful encounters with a lovely anteater with her baby and a peaceful tapir. We saw 5 anteaters and one we stopped and walked a ways into the field to meet. She had her baby on her back, was completely calm about us being near her (we were told they often have this relaxed disposition) and we took many pictures and just enjoyed watching such a crazy creature. Her long tongue reaching out for ants, the colorful markings and the way it all lines us with the marks on her baby, her big claws, the long, graceful tail that when broadside, makes her look like a really looonggg animal… we stayed watching for a long time all by ourselves except when 3 cowboys walked by our distant truck on their horses. Then a while later, we stopped to observe an armadillo and along came a tapir. It was quietly walking the road and came right up to us before stepping aside into the forest. It’s just neat to see this stuff. All in all we saw blue parrots, caymans, deer, otter, storks, a roseate spoonbill, toucans, capybaras, anteaters, tapir, armadillos and some others. What a great road and a great time. It’s so sad to know that there’s a paving project that will happen and all of that will change. Where will the wildlife go when everything is paved or made for pasture?

Our truck properly covered in red mud, we completed Anteater Road and pulled into a waterfall campground close to the town of Rio Verde that had plenty of water so we could clean up the truck and I could take a swim. We popped a bottle of champagne because…. Why Not?? It had been a spectacular couple of days.

The next morning early (we are on an early schedule because the sun rises before 6 and its cooler then) we took a bike ride on a nice bike path and country road before driving off to the city of Campo Grande. We have this running joke that if you pedal uphill for half the bike ride and then coast back down, do the downhill miles count as exercise if you don’t have to pedal?? Food for thought when you have a lot of time to consider these questions…

Supposedly Brazil doesn’t have a train network so everything moves by truck. That means the highways are filled with them and not every highway is separated. We’ve already seen a truck on fire and 2 on their sides. Jon drives carefully and we hope for the best. The drive to Campo Grande was full of trucks and we missed the lonely Anteater Road. But we wanted to come and see the museums here. We parked at a lovely city park where the museums are with a great running path and friendly people. We frequently receive invites to stay at people’s ranches but often we aren’t in the mindset to change our plans to accept them. But we’ve been met with incredible kindness and genuine interest in the fact that we’ve come this way and we plan to take advantage of more of these offers because it’s how wonderful experiences are made. One thing is though, we’ve noted that Brazilians rarely speak any spanish or English. So we’re really hard up for words!

Campo Grande has a new fresh water aquarium, reportedly the largest in the world and it just opened March of last year. It took 11 years to build and we don’t know the politics of it but the finished product is quite impressive and it’s FREE! The glass was so thick it was hard to focus our eyes in parts of it but the curvy tunnels were really cool. They told us that all the glass came from the USA. One thing we noticed is that in order to see a lot of the tanks, you had to kneel down and put your knees on the floor. They had all these pillows and even a wooden palette look alike made of foam to squat onto. We kept wondering what would be the reason to have the viewing windows so low???? We really enjoyed the tanks and all of the pretty Amazonian and Pantanal fresh water fish. We’d seen some on our float trips, we’d had some in our fish tank back when we were first starting out and others we learned about for the first time. It was a great visit and what a centerpiece for the city.

The park we camped beside in Campo Grande

Then we went to another museum- the Dom Bosco, in the same park that featured vast collections of pinned insects, stuffed animals and indigenous history. Sort of a collage of things presented in a very unique albeit odd way. Once again, for some reason, most exhibits were down on the floor! The only way to see them was to get on your hands & knees once again… Why in the world would you…. well, you just don’t ask….. You know how you can go several days without a full eye watering, can’t catch your breath belly laugh? Well we just cracked up both in the museum and even now when we think of how funny it was and the pictures we took of each other. Definitely got the low-down that day! Also, in order to see the taxidermy of all the great animals up close, you had to look through little arrows cut into the exhibit panels. The cause of more laughable questions….

Our Starlink has arrived to Florianopilos and Ivan has picked it up for us. While it is very tempting to turn back to the South Pantanal and do even more there, we think we can catch the north next year (maybe then we’ll see a jaguar!) when we cross from Bolivia. So we made a decision to head to the coast. Now we have a lot of driving to do and we’ll say goodbye to the wildlife for now and hello to the trucks.

We often see monkeys….

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