The Pantanal straddles two Brazillian states the Mato Gross and Mato Grosso do Sul. It is a vital ecosystem crisscrossed with rivers, waterfalls and lakes and home to an abundance of wildlife, including jaguars, caiman, great otters, capybara and, of course, birds – storks, ibis, herons, kingfishers. Jackie Marriott decided not to leave Brazil without having had at least a glimpse of the world’s largest wetland area.
The Pantanal has two distinct seasons, dry and wet, the wet one lasts from November to April. Although the vegetation and flowers bloom during the wet season, it can be more difficult to get around as many places are accessible only by boat or horse, and the wildlife more difficult to see. In the dry season, the water holes shrink and animals and birds in search of water are easier to view. We chose the dry season and saw an amazing variety of birds including four of the five kingfisher species.
Pousada do Rio Mutum
We had flown into Cuiabá, the regional capital, where we were met by a representative from the family run Pousada do Rio Mutum, which was to be our home for the next three nights. Not long after leaving the city the road surface changed from being metalled to broad dirt. Our three hour journey from the airport taking us through scenery which changed between meadow, scrubland and wide-open spaces interspersed with occasional small towns reminiscent of an old Wild West movie.
Accommodation at the pousada is in semi-detached chalets set in well-tended grounds, each chalet sporting a veranda complete with hammock.
Inside was a simple, but comfortable room with mosquito nets over the bed; actually whilst we were there we had no need for the nets as we had no problem with insects.
Incidentally it was the only place throughout our stay in Brazil which provided in-room coffee and tea making facilities. However, as seemed to be a common factor in Brazil, there was no provision for hot water in the washbasin of the en-suite shower room.
After settling in we took a stroll through the grounds discovering a small, clean and inviting swimming pool, and had our first meeting with the many birds which came to the pousada, encouraged by the food thrown out for them.
The calling of birds would come to epitomise our stay here, especially first thing in the mornings.
Caiparinhas and Piranha Soup
Finally we called in at the thatched-roofed restaurant and bar and had the first caiparinhas of our stay there. Both Eduardo the Restaurant manager, and Annmarie, could rustle up a mean caiparinha, second only, and only just second, we decided to those in Shirley’s restaurant near the Copacabana beach in Rio. They quickly got used to us, for within a few moments of our walking into the restaurant thereafter freshly made caiparinhas would appear in front of us.
It was in the restaurant that we first met Zaine, a lovely, ever-smiling lady, who was to be our dedicated guide for the whole of our stay. This was a pleasant surprise, as we had expected to be part of a group for all our excursions, but no, it was just Zaine, us, and sometimes a boatman.
Dinner that evening, was a delightful, relaxed affair, starting with Piranha soup, and followed by a buffet. Indeed all meals at the pousada are buffet-style with a good and varied choice of dishes.
The next morning Zaine collected us and we set off for a walk through the nearby surrounding countryside. We walked past pools of still waters to the nearby lake where caimans lounged on the bank, watching us all the while with their unblinking sideways gaze.
We walked on through shrubland with Zaine pointing out different plants and explaining their uses. And everywhere there were birds – birds skimming the water, perched in trees or balancing on fences.
The walk had been hot and tiring though, and it was something of a relief to realise that our afternoon excursion would be a boat ride up the river to fish for piranha. It was idyllic; the stillness, the reflections in the water, the calling of birds whilst we dangled string into the water waiting for a bite. Yes we caught some, but of course we put them back.
After a while we moved on and then, amongst the vegetation, we saw a head bobbing. Capybara! We followed the head and eventually could see on the bank a family of capybara. We stayed and watched them for a little while before turning for home, catching sight also of a column of bats clinging to a nearby tree-trunk.
An evening safari and a beautiful dawn
That evening we went on a night-time jeep safari with the other guests. It was surprisingly cool but, I must confess, it was not the most interesting evening I have ever spent. Night-time wildlife seemed remarkably reluctant to pose for a jeep full of tourists with a searchlight.
The next morning, having been warned to rise early, we set off with Zaine in a canoe to watch the sunrise over the Pantanal. When we set off, the moon was shining full in the black sky, making a silver pathway in the water. We reached the lake and sat still, waiting. So still. For ages we were the only people in this water-world, watching as the sky turned slowly to purple to gold and then to the blue of a summer sky.
Otters and a horse
As we returned, we caught sight of another head bobbing in the water, much faster than the capybara – a giant otter and family. We watched in delight as they caught fish taking them to safe places under the river bank to eat their breakfast.
Later that day I went on a horse ride through the countryside to one of the lakes, where I met the others and joined them in the boat for a less harrowing journey back, although caimans swimming towards the boat was somewhat disconcerting.
Sunset over the Pantanal
That evening, we once more set forth in the canoe, this time to watch the sunset over the Pantanal. Sitting silently, still and expectant, we waited. How could it be more striking, more magnificent, more colourful than the dawn we had witnessed earlier that day? But it was. It was spellbinding and unforgettable. And then, in the dark, with the same full moon lighting our way, Zaine quietly paddled us back to the pousada.
The next morning we said our goodbyes, receiving huge hugs from Eduardo, Annmarie, and our ever helpful Zaine, before being driven back to the airport, to catch our plane to Sao Paolo and the connecting flight to Manaus and the Amazon.
Jackie Marriott’s trip to Brazil was organised by Bespoke Brazil.
Bespoke Brazil specialises in Brazilian holidays including flights; covering tailor-made tours to Brazil, adventure holidays and events like the famous Rio Carnival. New for 2015, the company also offers a selection of exclusive wine tours. See also A Post Card from the Pantanal.
TAP serves a total of 88 destinations in 38 countries worldwide and is the largest European airline into Brazil, flying to 12 different airports, with up to 71 weekly flights. www.flytap.com. For further information on TAP also visitNEWS: Getting There – Flying Down to Rio.