Other photos of Brazil



                ITINERARY:  (#1)  Tabatinga, Amazon River, Tefe, Mamiraua Bio-Reserve - see AMAZONIA

               (#2)  Corumba, the Pantanal, Bonito, Foz do Iguacu

             September 2004



After arriving in Coruma (Brazil), we bumped overland in the back of a covered truck (below) for ten hours to the very center of the Pantanal, where we spent three nights at an estancia (cattle ranch). The Pantanal is the world's largest inland wetlands - roughly half the size of France. We were here in Brazil's dry season, so the wet areas were mostly creeks and scattered ponds.





Along the way we passed hundreds of thousands of moony-eyed, hump-backed, wattled, pearl-gray cattle related to the sacred cows of IndiaGauchos in chaps and spurred boots driving their herds through clouds of red dust reminded Lou of his grandfather - a real-life cowboy who drove cattle up the Chisolm Trail through Texas and Oklahoma in the 1890s. One day, pretending to be cowboys too, we rode horses from the estancia out into the savannah of the Pantanal. Joan's nag had a very erratic gait and afterward, it looked as if her bottom had been attacked by a metal cheese grater. Lou called her "Hamburger Buns."




 The Pantanal, which we'd never heard of before planning this trip, is a haven for exotic wildlife and birds. The varieties and numbers of birds were staggering. The most elegant birds were the black-white-and-red jabiru storks who stalked the wetlands like hunched-over British butlers. The noisiest were the colorful, screeching macaws (below) - dark blue hyacinths, blue-golds and scarlets. We loved to watch the orange-beaked toucans - how do they fly when half their body is beak? A paper airplane with a nose like that would dive to the turf!



Our guide Walter relished gunning his truck across the roadless savannah (with us bouncing in the back, Joan on her hamburger buns) after confused cattle, flapping emus, high-tailing coatis, shaggy and wet capybaras and streaking anteaters. Here's a coati - which is related to the racoon.



Back at the ranch, an orphaned fawn only a few days old was having trouble standing on the slick dining room tile. Joan hugged the little creature to comfort him. (Does he look very comforted?)



One day Walter temporarily captured a prehistoric-looking armadillo for our inspection (it was literally scared shitless), then took us piranha fishing. We caught three piranha each,  meanwhile keeping our bare feet up on the gunnels of the boat to avoid the snapping fish we'd already caught. Here's Walter with a sharp-toothed piranha:




We swam in the river while the piranha were being grilled over a campfire. Walter told us not to worry about the piranha or the caiman (four-foot-long alligators) - but to stay near the shore because of a pair of giant river otters. They had screamed at us while we were fishing - to warn us away from their pup. Also, we were repeatedly warned not to pee in the river because of the tiny marine creatures that swim up your urine stream and into your body! (This sounds like a joke, but isn't.) We had so much to watch out for that we only swam long enough to cool off. Fortunately, the piranha, caiman, otters and urine-fish didn't find us, and we left the Pantanal thinking we were in good health - until Lou realized he'd been bitten several times on his head and neck by a venomous spider. It took almost a month for the swelling to subside. Joan called him "Spiderman."




From the Pantanal we rode a bus six hours south to the little-known town of Bonito. Wow, was it hot! To compensate, we downed more than a few cold beers, which the cafes refrigerate at 23 degrees Fahrenheit. (For comparison, Germans keep it at 44 F.)Lou had learned in Ecuador how to ask for a  beer and two glasses: "Una cervesa y dos vasos." In Brazil this cracked up the few Portuguese-speaking waiters who understood Spanish. They interpreted what he said as: "A beer and two toilets." In any words, we had to stop ordering it so often when we realized that Lou was adding a tiny beer belly to his slender frame and Joan was growing beer hips. To avoid the extra calories, we cooled off one day by taking a tour down into a beautiful cave (below.)







The best way to keep cool - and the reason we came to Bonito -  was to take snorkeling tours in the nearby rivers. Wearing wetsuits, masks and snorkels, we slid into the deliciously cool, spring-fed waters. We were shocked when we put our faces under the water - it was so clear it was like looking through air; to float around in it was to fly! There were millions of fish. Make that zillions. There were about 30 varieties - the largest must have weighed 20 pounds, the smallest less than an ounce. Fish with big black dots, fish with long yellow stripes, blue-lipped vacuum cleaner fish belching sand, teeny-tiny red fish playing hide-and-seek, big gray "cow" fish grazing on bottom grasses. They ignored us - swimming to within three inches of our masks, then languidly drifting away. So we flew and the fish flew and the vegetation below us waved and it was all effortlessly magical.



The heat and humidity at world-famous Iguazu Falls were even worse than in Bonito. (Despite the continent's reputation for heat, during eight months in South America the only places we were really hot were a total of maybe three weeks in Amazonia, the Pantanal, Iquitos and Iguazu Falls. We were in the Andes during the dry and cold autumn and winter, and in Patagonia in the chilly spring.)


Hot and sweaty at Iguazu, we headed for the water again by taking a ride in a Zodiac on the Brazilian side of the falls. The boatmen on the Macuco Safari offered us plastic raincoats, but - dressed in quick-drying travel gear - we declined them and sat far forward in the bow of the boat. A little spray wouldn't hurt, would it? On the way upstream we smugly taunted the American travelers sitting behind us perspiring in plastic. They soon had laughing revenge as spray and waves crashed over the forward gunnels into our laps. Lou playfully shook his fist at the boatman, who responded in great delight by driving right under some of the falls (below, right) soaking us to the skin. To experience the roar and engage the torrent up close was unforgettable; we didn't even mind looking like wet capybaras for three hours afterward.




We kept cool on the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls by walking many paths in the spray of the almost 300 different falls, as well as onto the catwalks perched over them. Our favorite spot was the platform above Devil's Throat (below, right), the biggest falls of all. To stand there looking down into the roaring abyss - feeling dizzy at the thought that we could soar right into it if we climbed over the railing - was the most impressive, up-close experience of nature's raw power we've had. Devil's Throat was even more awesome when we saw it again that night - glowing mysteriously under a full moon.



Later, at a bird park on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls, we walked through enormous aviaries; in one, a toucan (below) walked right up and stretched out his neck to be scratched, while the macaws singled us out for repeated dive-attacks. We were entranced by this iguana, which perched as motionless as a rubber toy.



This was idyllic compared to our two-hour trip into - and quickly out of - the next country. Riding the city bus back from the bird park, we impulsively decided to visit Paraguay, and hopped off the bus at the bridge linking it with Brazil. This was a bit dicey, as we had no visas and could have been slapped with a big fine if we'd been caught by border guards. But it was a Saturday, and throngs of Brazilians and Argentineans were walking across the bridge to Ciudad del Este to buy cheap cigarettes, radios, cell phones and illegal drugs. So we took a chance and mingled with the crowds shuffling over the bridge. The difference between the two countries was startling. The Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu was loud, messy and rather run-down compared to the Argentinian city of Puerto Iguazu, but Paraguay's Ciudad del Este (below) was downright sleazy, filthy, noisy and congested. It also felt vaguely dangerous - even in broad daylight. (We later read that because of the drug trade and related violence it's best to be out of there by 5 p.m.) We were glad to re-cross the river without being nabbed by the police and to be safely back at our hotel in Puerto Iguazu.

Other photos of Brazil

From Iguazu Falls we traveled south by bus to ARGENTINA & URUGUAY



GUIDEBOOKS:  South America on a Shoestring (Lonely Planet); and Footprints Handbook to South America

IGUAZU FALLS:  Hotel Los Heladeros, two blocks uphill from the bus station in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina - $25/double with bath, breakfast, garden, swimming pool.

Bus from Puerto Iguazu to Iguazu Falls: Frequent departures from city bus terminal $1 one-way. On nights with a full moon (plus two nights before and two after), visit the Devil's Throat on the Argentina side by moonlight. Check at the bus station in Puerto Iguazu for details. Price of transport, park admission and guided walk was about $6 apiece. To reserve: 03757-491

Cruzero del Norte runs super-comfortable all-night buses from Bonito to Iguazu Falls, and from the falls to Buenos Aires; 18-19 hours for each trip. $100/one way, with meals, on-board toilet. Seats recline nearly to horizontal for sleeping; fixed barriers create separate spaces.




Joan and Lou Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net