The Wetland Pantanal: The Way To The Outback

At a small hotel in the centre of Campo Grande, I took my sweaty clothes off. I only had half an hour, until I should finally go to my lodge near to the Rio Paraguay.

A relic of the rainy season

Therefore, a catlick had to be entirely sufficient. Now I was be up and about for more than 20 hours – interrupted by some short momentary nodding offs in the plane. And somehow I didn’t feel tired. My body couldn’t rest. I was too excited what is going to await me there, in the Brazilian outback. I had never been so far inland in one of the South American countries – far away from the ocean, far away from the booming cities and far away from civilization. It seemed so surreal as I climbed up the small jeep, which chauffeured me and two other tourists – a German couple – to the Pantanal. The ride lasted one, perhaps two hours. Somehow I don’t remember it. Because in Campo Grande, I hadn’t only quit my feeling of comfort, but I also lost my track of time.

A lizard in the Pantanal

We went out of Campo Grande and soon we reached the backswamps. Lush mangrove bushes and arid briars blazed our trail. The road was a small dirt lane that crossed several bridges, one more unstable than the other. It was dry season. The lakes had dwindled to small waterholes in which tens of crocodiles lived, waiting for the next feast. They formed a perfect symbiosis with the water birds and capybaras, a characteristic, Brazilian animal – which are at the top on their menu. But the dry season makes them sluggish and capybaras know that. And they use their chance to feast on the rivers and ponds.

Not just one crocodile is enough

On our way we stopped at a few water holes and left our protected zone, the Jeep. It was a very special thrill. So far, I only knew crocodiles from the zoo – or from some documentations. In real life and without a secure glass wall, I had never met them before. Armed with my camera and my macro lens I had the courage to go close to these prehistoric reptiles within two yards. I watched each of their movements Argus-eyed, but scared to be the next victim of their razor-sharp teeth and their squelching jaws. Undaunted by death, our driver even walked down to the shore of the water hole, proving that there wouldn’t be any danger. But the fun had a fast end as the crocodile turned around smartly and persecuted us. With a masterful jump we reached our Jeep and continued the journey – with high pulse and cold sweat on our foreheads.

A capybara taking a bath

The rest of the trip wasn’t that dangerous, but also no less eventful: Because rotten wooden bridges, a dirt road with huge potholes – a relic from the rainy season and increasingly dense thicket complicated our ride. However, despite the adversities we reached the Rio Paraguay, our final stop, after an eternity. But for me the journey shouldn’t be over there. Because the lodge was still several kilometers upriver.

Going to the other side of the river Rio Paraguay

A strong ga├║cho immediately grabbed our luggage and loaded it on a small wooden boat. The embarkation was hard. The river current of the Rio Paraguay was strong on that day and the boat bobbed in time with the waves. The coxswain grabbed my hand and dragged me into the swaying boat. And then the crossing could start. We passed by several lodges and dockyards, met piranhas, macaws and giant dragonflies – and even a local fisherman with his friend and his son. Piranhas are in fact one of the favourite dishes of the gauchos and natives, as well as the home-grown beef and capybaras.

After half an hour we finally reached the safe shore. With a quick jump I left the boat. There it was: my final destination. After nearly 24 hours by airplane, car and boat. The walk to the lodge room felt like a salvation. But already at the entrance a cockroach group greeted me, showing their samba skills. I walked past them and immediately to my room. A shower was urgently needed. After I had put down my luggage and took off my clothes, I couldn’t wait to take a shower. And as it might be expected, it was freezing cold. A real shock for me – and the beginning of a more or less uncomfortable adventure episode.

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