Pantanal

The Pantanal    Nov. 11- 15

This enormous area is an open grassland or savannah, slightly larger
than France, and is known as the best place in all the Americas to
spot exotic wildlife. Upon arrival in the Pantanal, we see miles of
grass and at the horizon large trees and brush. Groups of deciduous
trees are sprinkled with palmetto and some palm. There are few flowers
anywhere with the exception of the luscious coral tree and an
occasional bromeliad with red cactus-style leaves. This is the end of
the dry season and rains will come soon.

Our biggest surprise ─ herds of white cows imported from India where
the climate is similar. Ranching has been part of this area for more
than a century. However, in more recent time ecotourism has landed. We
are staying at a ranch that is 100 years old but the Pousada is only
30 years young. Pousada Piuval is a sprawling adobe ranch house with
cool tile floors and heavy wooden furniture. Rooms are of a reasonable
size and each is air-conditioned. Meals are healthy but repetitive,
although the coffee is excellent. Viva Brazil! At night there are more
insects on the floor of our room than I see in a six month period in
San Francisco. What do we do about that? We get over it.

The Pantanal has a rhythm of its own. There are morning and late
afternoon hikes, night truck tours, and boat trips. The heat of
mid-day sends the animals and the humans into siesta mode. Our guide
Jean (a Haitian ex-pat) leads our group ─ four Dutch tourists and us.
He sights wildlife that we city folk miss completely. A group of coati
amble along in the nearby brush. The coati is brown and about the size
of a raccoon. The large ring tail can either stand up proudly or lag
behind.  On some hikes there’s a plethora of sightings while on others
nothing ─ this is not a zoo.

On a boat trip along the river, the Dutch fish for piranha while we
search the banks. We see a hefty doe and a bulky stag with a huge
antler stack. Unfortunately the edges of the river are already thick
with the insidious hyacinth plant known to choke major waterways.

Birdlife is remarkable and a constant source of amazement. With the
exception of Costa Rica, we’ve never seen as many bird species ─ noisy
macaws, elegant  herons, flocks of egrets, hawks, toucans, parrots and
enormous storks with high nests. We watch one Jabiru stork swallow a
fish that is as large as his beak. Smart parakeets create their own
nests in and under a gigantic stork nest.

Monkeys hang out in the thick of the bush. They do wild jumps between
trees and palmettos that would be the envy of a track and field star.
Alligator-like animals are known as caimans and regardless of  name,
they all look frightening and pre-historic. On a night ride, the
spotting light reflecting off their eyes appears like hundreds of city
lights.

One of the more unusual animals is a capybara, the
largest rodent in the world. They resemble huge guinea pigs with the
torso of an overweight dog. Capybaras even swim in the middle of
caiman ponds and each species gets along just fine.

Luckily, our Pantanal visit coincides with the annual “Cavalcade of
Horses.” Hundreds of horsemen and some women spend several days
crossing a wide swath of the region. As they traverse the 7,000
hectares of the pousada land, riders stretch across the horizon. We
move closer and see that most participants wear special commemorative
T-shirts. A large amount of beer has been consumed. As a small quartet
passes, I shout “Viva los caballeros!”  They stop, speak some English,
and I ask the guitar horseman how he can ride and play. He responds
with a tune while everyone sings. A horseman named Berto dismounts and
starts dancing with me to a slow rhumba beat. He twirls, spins, and
even lifts me off my feet before the song ends. Berto bows and his
friends applaud.

A horse trip was also offered to us. My attempts to sit comfortably
on the horse were unsuccessful. Mark went off with the group on two
enjoyable trips, and I went for a run.

The Pantanal is a unique part of this world and we feel privileged to
have been here.

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