Saturday, 11 July 2015

Pantanal Brazil to Bolivia

Waking at 8am, we spoke to a family staying in our hostel touring the world for 4 months with their 4 year old son. They recommended the Santa Clara Lodge Tour of the Pantanal, and since we weren't exactly central, we decided to give it a go from our hostel despite the price! It left at 10am, was 2 nights/ 3 days - 2 breakfasts, lunch and dinners included. Also a safari journey, hike, horseback riding, spotlight night tour + boat journey. To stay in a dorm, it cost overall $660 real (£144) plus 70 real to get there (£15.20). The accommodation alone was only 70 real for two nights... And for meals we'd been spending around 60 real a day (£13) so that's 190 real (£41.30). That means roughly 470 real (£102) worth of activities....

I can tell you now... That was not 470 real worth of activities. Huge rip-off....

The bus to the Pantanal from Campo Grande took 6 hours, stopping off for lunch on the way. We transferred to the back of a broken down pick up truck at one point and stood at the side of the road whilst they replaced the tyre. Onwards the journey was very very bumpy down an hour-long dirt track. I really enjoyed the moment though, despite it being freezing cold, the wind in my hair and the music in my ears (which ironically was playing Kaiser Chiefs song with the lyrics 'oh my god I can't believe it, I've never been this far away from home'), just felt very peaceful/ reminiscent of my usual travelling transportation. We saw a capybara... That excited Matt far too much.
When we arrived at the lodge, they never told us we weren't allowed to share a dorm, but Matt and I were split up and put into separate gender dorms. Soon, dinner rolled round - rice with meat and beans was the main option. Surprisingly I did eat some of it. We started talking to some other travellers and just had a few beers discussing the locations we'd travelled to and where our adventures were taking us. One worked at a record label doing their social media, one taught English at a school in Brazil, one worked on a cruise ship as a wine expert travelling the world etc etc. I love how interesting other people's lives are whilst travelling! Anyway, after a few drinks we decided to call it a night as we were shattered and had to be up at 6am since breakfast was at 6:30 and we left at 7am. I was so cold all day - I had a scarf, thermal vest, micro fleece, large woollen jumper and a shirt on.... I do have a cold though currently from my niece which didn't help...

Breakfast had a wide range of choices which was good. I just love their homemade sausage rolls out here. Soooo good. One thing I will say about Brazilian food thought is that they adore their cheese! If you ever order anything with cheese, it comes totally smothered in it. I am convinced they are trying to give me a heart attack.

At 7:20am (slightly later than they said), we set off... Back down the same path we had travelled the day before to get there... To see if we could spot any wildlife. It was hugely anticlimactic. It's not the company's fault of course, it's not the season for most animals, but it was very boring. We saw a lot of birds, and a few caimen, but that was it... We may as well have just done it on the trip up there. Mid way through we stopped for a 'hike'... Which was just a walk through a forest. We saw 2 monkeys in the trees and that was it... We did see baby jaguar paw prints though - but they were a day old. It felt like a school trip I was being forced to attend. The tour guide was lovely, but I felt like a child as he kept asking us to come to the front - I don't know why... Maybe so he could try explain things - but he didn't speak very good English. He gets an A+ for trying though... 

Matt loves bird watching.

Best thing we saw... 'Caimans chilling on Copacabana'.

Frog that chilled with Matt in the toilets 

We got back to camp, had lunch (but I wasn't a fan of it so ate the Latin American equivalent of wotists), had a few drinks and had to kill 4 hours till our next activity. Luckily it was a completely beautiful day so we laid by the pool and sunbathed, discussing our next plans and playing cards. 

Finally, we walked over to the horses and hopped on them with some help. I found it daunting at first as horses scare me since they're so unpredictable, however, they were very old and just trained to walk very very slowly and not stray from the path. The tour guide went from Indiana Jones to Django... I couldn't stop singing in my head 'the horse with no name'. I felt like a cowboy who was really shit at his job and couldn't control his horse haha. The ride was very long, and the horses seemed very tired.

I've decided, Matt reminds me off the horse he was riding - stubborn, lazy and needs a real kick to get going! Even when you kicked him in the side, he still didn't speed up.... Nor did mine. I ended up feeling so sorry for my horse that when I was at the back of the line, I began talking to it. I think I'm crazy... But I just needed it to know I was sorry for being such a heavy weight/ it being force to follow the same boring route every day despite being clearly past this ability age wise.

Matt loves mounting.

Once back at the hostel we went on a nighttime spot light search in the back of the truck along the same route again.... We saw 1 deer and that was it... I loved it though regardless because the sky was totally beautiful, so many stars out. I just sat at the back of the truck and gazed up instead. 

Upon our return we had dinner and then joined 2 other couples and some Mexican girls for drinks/ chat. We had the local drink caipirinha... Oh my god it killed me. It was so strong and so disgusting it took me about an hour and a half to drink. I think he forgot to add the mixer to it! After a few more drinks we followed the Mexicans to one of the staffs houses as he told them to stop by for drinks... Turns out he meant flavoured tea. So, we all tasted it expecting to find alcohol.... Only to be surprised by cherry tea haha. We decided to head back and grab some more beers but the bar had closed by 10pm. Instead, we drank a shot of vodka we had got from Rio, and played card games with another couple till midnight, where we were sufficiently smashed to fall asleep.

6am this morning we got ready, had breakfast and set off at 7am-9:30am for a boat tour. This was the best part of the tour package. It was a very peaceful morning. Again, didn't really see a lot of animals - several birds but that was about it. The guide, Rodrigo, was very chatty and was asking us how to say many words. 

Don't mind me... I'm just chilling mannnnnn.

Overall, the tour was a big let down. Partly due to our timing in visiting the Pantanal (less animals), but also due to the boring nature of the activities. I was hoping for more information on the types of animals/ plants in the area opposed to a quick naming/ description of what some of them might eat. Also, horse riding was very dull, and so was going down the same track 4 times overall. Matt enjoyed it more as he likes nature more/ knows slightly more about the type of birds we saw. Yet, compared to the cheap tour of the Cameron Highlands I did in Malaysia, it was hugely overpriced.

We had to pay 90 real between 6 of us to get a bus that would leave earlier to ensure we made it for the bus to corumba (another 25 real and 1.5 hours) to make the border crossing for Bolivia before it closed at 5pm. We made it with plenty of time to spare, queued to get the exit visa and entered Bolivia. There was a huge change in culture instantly. Bolivia is clearly far more run down. Shacks line the streets and those small convenience stores that stock Oreos and Pringles for backpackers litter the street. 

We went to the train station to find out that the nice overnight train had already sold out, so ventured to the bus station and paid 150 Bolivians (£15) for a high-quality bus to Santa Cruz.We went with 23 De Marzo company, bus Suite. We didn't have anything to do till 9pm when the bus left though so we had to kill around 5 hours just walking about (only to find there was nothing in the area), and sitting in a cafe just getting cola and chips whilst reading. Most surprising of all is that whilst I write this entry, Matt is sat next to me reading! READING! I managed to get him hooked on the latest Freakonomics book. It's nice because I don't have to worry about him being bored this way!

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