ITINERARY: (#1) Tabatinga, Amazon River, Tefe, Mamiraua Bio-Reserve - see AMAZONIA
(#2) Corumba, the Pantanal, Bonito, Foz do Iguacu
HAMBURGER BUNS and SPIDERMAN
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
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."
FLYING WITH FISH
From the Pantanal
we rode a bus six hours south to the little-known town of
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
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
Later, at a bird
park on the Brazilian side of
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.
From Iguazu Falls we traveled south by bus to ARGENTINA & URUGUAY
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
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
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 email@example.com