Andy in his Element: Happy Hat Times in the Pantanal

I’m writing this from the ‘Rém. Back to the oven…back to reality!

…a map of August 18th-August 28th. The final stretch of the journey!

The Trip:

I learned one major lesson from my never-ending bus ride to Campo Grande: Sometimes when you try to save money…you end up causing yourself a way bigger headache than need be.  On Friday night, after saying goodbye to our fellow Fulbrighters in Brasília, we hopped on a bus and headed out for Campo Grande (one of the two major gateways to the Pantanal). We were told that the trip would be 15 hours (which didn’t seem too bad at the time) and that we’d save some serious $$$. Needless to say, we jumped at the opportunity.  Unfortunately, the trip ended up being the most “ARE WE THERE YET?!” experience of my life. 1200 miles…23 hours…4 Brazilian states…1 billion farms…and the most roundabout way of getting to Campo Grande from Brasília in the whole wide world…boy oh boy.

Nonetheless, I’d give the bus ride one thumb up for two reasons: 1. I got to see the Brazilian countryside (albeit for 23 hours) and 2. I’m now able to check “ridiculously long (unnecessary) bus ride” off my bucket list.

The Pantanal:

For those of you who’ve never been to the Pantanal: Go there…go there now! Between the gorgeous landscapes and exotic, easily viewable animals, the Pantanal really has a lot to offer.  The enormous wetland ecosystem (one of the largest in the world Wiki tells me) is split between the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul (of which Campo Grande is the capital) and enters parts of Eastern Paraguay and Bolivia. I think more than anything else I was impressed with two things about this marvelous place: First, the incredible diversity of landscapes throughout the system (huge rivers, lakes, grassland savanna, rainforest, ect.) and second, the accessibility of wildlife (unlike an African safari, you can literally hop out of your jeep and walk around).  Anyways, here are some highlights (and photos) from four days of “Andy in his Element”…

  • Fauna: Man the Pantanal has some magnificent wildlife. Giant anteaters, caiman, capyvara, rare birds, monkeys, snakes, marsh deer, iguanas, ect. ect. ect. I loved absolutely every minute of cruising around the bush and seeing all matter of stunning creatures.
  • Pantanal Treking: Hah. When I say we tried to save money…I mean tried to SAVE money! The company we found was called Pantanal Treking and was seriously bare bones. With cars that need to be pushed to start, dorms that sleep 12, and pasta twice daily, you really get what you pay for. That said, Pantanal Treking got the job done. Our base camp was located along the Paraguay River (the main river of the Pantanal) and allowed us to explore the area with ease.  Although our guides appeared to be inebriated a solid 50% of the time, I’d give Pantanal Treking one thumb up. I saw what a wanted to see…all on a budget.  One word of caution: Pantanal Treking probably ISN’T for you if you have a 1.5 year-old infant (as one INSANE Russian couple quickly learned during our trip)…

  • Horse-backing riding: Yes, please. One of the major highlights of my Pantanal adventure was going horseback riding into the grassland savanna. We spent a solid two hours cruising across open fields, weaving through forest, and traversing…LAKES (awesomeness maximus)! Despite the fact that I had little to no control of my horse (you could tell he’d carried a few neophyte gringos in his day), I have no trouble giving the whole experience two thumbs way up.

  • Piranha fishing: Relaxing. Fun. Easy. Also, I learned that you can catch piranhas…with other piranhas. Cannibalistic, bizarre, terrifying little creatures.

  • 30 million caiman: The Pantanal is the holy land for caiman. Over 30 million of these alligatorid crocodylians call the area home and you can find them just about everywhere. One of the highlights of my time in the Pantanal was seeing well over 500 caiman lying beached along a lakeshore. Amazing stuff.

  • Giant guinea pigs: Capyvara are pretty darn hilarious. They are BASICALLY gigantic, guinea pig-like rodents (they are the largest rodent in the world actually). Part cute, part strange…

  • Snake in the bathroom: Yup that happened. Luckily I wasn’t the one to discover it…

  • My hat: Every hat has its day (or days). Throughout our time in the Pantanal, my hat thrived in every way imaginable. It also got MANY a compliment from our local guides…just saying…
  • Puppies: Need. I. Say. More?

  • The people we met: see below

The best part of traveling is…

Meeting people! I was really taken aback by the kind, interesting people I met during our Pantanal tour. We hung out a bunch with a Kiwi couple that was just GREAT. They were just starting out on a five month tour of South and Central America after living abroad in the UK for a few years. It was awesome talking to them and hearing their life story and perspective on things. When you travel it’s often hard not to be struck by how many thought-provoking conversations you have with people from all walks of life. I came across folks from Switzerland, Estonia, Russia, the UK, and Australia…to name a few. Also, in retrospect, I didn’t encounter ONE American in the Pantanal…curious to say the least.

Other happenings:

  • Clint Eastwood at the Republican Convention: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WHAT WAS THAT?!?!?!
  • The federal university strike has apparently ended. That’s news to me!  Just about everybody I know tells me that the strike is ongoing at their universities.  Academic life at UFOPA is certainly crawling along at the moment, as only a few professors are not on strike. You have to love the fact that the government-friendly Brazilian media conglomerate “Globo” keeps telling everybody that the strike is over and school’s back in session…
  • Despite the strike, some major breakthroughs with respect to my teaching situation in Santarém were made last Thursday…more to come next week!
  • Get ready for a solid three months of me talking about beaches….things are looking REAL nice along the banks of the Tapajós these days. Amazon beach season is finally upon us!
  • Ants welcomed me back…WITH FULL FORCE…on night #2 in my hammock. Goooooooood to know some things never change. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry…I suppose…

That’s all I have for now. Remember that time that I was surrounded by jungle again? Oh wait…I do. Until next Monday, have a good week!

Amazonically,

Andy

P.S Facebook photo album from the Pantanal will be posted in the next few days (internet permitting of course)…brace yourselves for puppies, giant guinea pigs, and more!

P.S.S That’s basically the end of adventure blogging…for now I guess. Although, given the fact that everyday in Santarém is an adventure of sorts…expect plenty more good stories in the weeks ahead.

P.S.S.S Stop it…I know…

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