My first night in the Pantanal ended as suspenseful as it had begun. After a poor dinner with dry bread and overripe fruit, a real highlight was urgently needed.
And I got one! After eight o’clock in the evening, we met at the riverside of the Rio Paraguay. Prepared with gallons of anti-mosquito cream and sturdy shoes, I boarded the rickety boat. Together with my SLR. The night had already overtaken the swamplands and bathed it in darkness. It was a fascinating and likewise creepy atmosphere. Because many animals are nocturnal. And aren’t afraid of attacking people if they feel danger. The noise was getting louder and louder. The fading away birdsongs were combined by the quiet cries of the flying foxes and the minatory hum of the dragonflies.
We – me and seven other tourists – sailed slowly across the river. Far and wide there was nothing to see. After an endless time we stopped suddenly, right next to a river bank. The guide shone with his flashlight straight to the reeds. Lo and behold. A black stone carefully opened his eyelids. It was one of the giant river caimans. It sent cold shivers up and down my spine. The caiman was bigger than our entire boat. I thought about the worst scenarios. What if it is just waiting for the right opportunity and then suddenly attacks our boat? Fortunately, nothing happened. I have never heard of an attack on a tourist group so far – or it is disguised not to endanger the tourism. More than one hour and a half, we sailed along the river banks, looking for the scaly river monsters. I captured their silent power on my camera – and somehow they seemed to become bigger and bigger.
As I had solid ground under my feet again, I was relieved. But I looked back to the Rio Paraguay. Reassuring myself that no caiman had chased me. The darkness had awakened my paranoia – and I acquiesced it. But everything seemed to be quiet, harmless. And so I strolled back to the lodge light-heartedly. Straight to my room. This was enough thrill for one day. I collapsed into my bed deathly tired and I was looking forward to finally sleep on a soft mattress- after 48 hours. The next morning – after a way too short night – I was rudely awakened by birds’ twittering. And also a huge cockroach greeted me on the foot of my bed. Defencelessly it dangled with its scrawny legs lying on its back. Just waiting to be taken from real life or to be banished from my room. I decided for the latter. Finally – a native Gaúcho told me – they eat mosquitoes. And in the Pantanal, there are quite a few of these blood-sucking insects.
After an ice-cold shower I looked forward to breakfast – and I was again bitterly disappointed. The bread was too dry, the coffee didn’t taste well and the dishes weren’t really hygienic clean. But in a country like Brazil you shouldn’t be picky about such things. Because hospitality is more important than a first-class buffet and cleanliness. And I shouldn’t forget that I was hundreds of kilometres far away from the nearest town, Campo Grande. As I could learn during my five-day stay, just once a week, food is delivered to the lodge. Whenever new tourists come from the city centre to the Rio Paraguay. The bread and the cakes are homemade. Every few days, to have it in stock. Because the staff isn’t just responsible for the kitchen. They also take care for the bedrooms and the organization of the trips. A 24-hours job. Most people work here seasonal, returning to their families with pockets full of money. Full of money in the Brazilian meaning, of course.
In the early afternoon, I decided to join another boat tour. But this time in daylight. Lowering heat and 28 ° C, I provided myself with my most protective sunscreen: SPF 50, Australian standard. A good choice, as it turned out later. Many other tourists underestimated the spring sun in the Pantanal. And came back home with a pink-red complexion. On our three-hour tour, we observed the flora and fauna at the Rio Paraguay. Many native birds such as the kingfisher, the hyacinth macaw and the jabiru, the symbol of the Pantanal, were on my camera. I saw capybaras that wallowed in the mud and giant otters, hidden away in the reeds. Our motorboat was probably too loud for them. Our familiar friends, the caimans, weren’t disturbed by the noise. They floated almost motionless in the water – as usual. But in daylight they looked more peaceful, and no longer as monstrous as the night before. Somehow – it gave the impression – I slowly has become friends with them. I discovered more aquatic animals, the pacú, the dourado and the piranha. The next day I should fish them. My tour guide had commended me highly the piranha fishing. I had never fished before – and suddenly I wanted to do it, more than 10,000 kilometres away from home.
Therefore, on the third day of my Pantanal trip, I got on a floating log again. A local Indio demonstrated us, how to catch the predator among the fishes. Initially we lured them with beef that we fixed on the fishhook. Later, as we had caught the first ones, we took piranha meat for fishing. Piranhas are cannibalistic. They don’t care, what kind of meat they eat. The main thing for them is that they get something to eat. I proved to be a natural talent and fished one piranha after another. Either I had insane luck or a good sense of where the piranhas bite. My final result at the end of the day was about 15 piranhas. I even cracked the weekly tourist record. Of course, the piranhas shouldn’t have died for no reason. We grilled and ate them for dinner. It’s hard to describe how this fish tastes. Because it is no typical fish taste. Rather, the piranha is reminiscent of the meat of a shark.
At dinner, I made friends with a multi-cultural travel group of young students. One was from the Netherlands, another one from Switzerland, a young woman came from Italy and the couple was from Spain. They travelled together across Brazil and had got to know each other from a travel forum. A crazy idea travelling around with unknown people in a foreign country, I said to myself. But why did I fool myself? I even travelled completely alone. I don’t want to predict what is more dangerous.