The Pantanal
Brazil makes an immediate impression on us. The police strut around wearing designer sunshades and thigh strap gun holsters that seem to be specifically made to show off the famous ‘Brazilian bum’.
We drive into town to get some money only to discover that our bank has issued new cards and cancelled the cards we have! So we ask the bank manager if we can change US Dollars only to be told that it is only legal to do this in the regions capital (a two day drive away). ‘There is a change place back at the border you can use.’
We drive back to the border and Dave asks the police where the change office is. They point him back across the border to Bolivia, so Dave strolls over the border and asks the Bolivian police, who point to three elderly women sitting on chairs by the road side their handbags bulging with money. Unbelievably they manage to change US$ 1,000 and still have plenty of money left! Dave strolls back over the border and arrives at the truck with the story of his illegal border crossing. A classic overlanders tale!
Our adventure begins the next day. We are in this area of Brazil to see animals and the Pantanal is one of the best places to do this. A vast wetland area that is linked by a series of raised dirt roads and bridges that service the huge Fazenda’s (cattle ranches) of the region. In the wet season some of the fazenda homesteads become isolated islands that can only be reached by plane or boat. In the dry season (now) the land dries up creating fresh savanna land and leaving small bodies of water where giant otters and caiman fight over the stranded fish.
The dirt roads are not well mapped and trying to find accurate information about them can be impossible at times. In the end we follow tracks to see where they go looking for animals along the way. It was on one of these tracks we met the owner of a nearby fazenda (45 km’s away, which is nearby for this part of the world). He generously invited us to come and camp on his ranch for a few days but the track to his place was very deep sand and Nessies double rear tyres made it a high rev 4x4 slog. We had to give up. Our fuel levels were low and this type of driving can double your fuel consumption. We were cursing our bad luck when suddenly Rose shouted ‘Stop the truck!’ She jumped out and was over a fence faster than a Olympic hurdler! There in the field was a giant anteater - her top ‘must see’ animal.
We spent 20 minutes strolling across the savanna with this fabulous animal, watching him stop to raid termite holes, only to have to frantically rub his long nose to stop them biting it. Unbelievably, only a few kilometres later, we saw another one! This time it was a young adolescent who allowed us to walk within half a metre of him. As long as we moved slowly, made no noise and stopped when he stopped, then he was completely calm about us being there.
We had seen a smaller collared anteater a couple of days before who was also very unafraid of Rose. But when a motorbike appeared on the track he immediately stood up on his hind legs, lifting his front paws high to make himself appear large. What a fantastic picture that made!
Caiman, capybara and every imaginable size and colour of bird fill the landscape but we want to see giant otters and big cats, so we drive to the northern part of the wetlands. It is there that Dave finally gets to see his ‘number one’ animal - a big cat.
We saw two - a jaguar and a puma. The jaguar crossed the road in front of us but we were so amazed that we couldn’t believe what we had seen. A local was fishing on a bridge just beyond the crossing point so we stopped to ask him if he had a dog, he did but it was at the far end of the bridge so we explained what we had just seen. He dropped his rod, picked up his hunting knife and followed us back up the road to search for paw prints. Further on we spoke to a experienced eco-lodge owner and described what we saw. ‘Oh yes, we have a jaguar about 25 km’s back’. That was exactly where we had seen it but we didn’t see any spots on the animal. He explained that if the jaguar is wet then the spots are not so obvious. WOW. We can’t believe it was that easy. It’s such a shame we didn’t have our camera ready - the cat was gone in the blink of an eye.
But a far closer encounter was waiting for Dave! The next afternoon Dave was walking back along a track to where we were camping by a river, when he saw ‘something’ crouched by the roadside. Suddenly ‘it’ stood up and in one leap cleared the track and disappeared into the bushes. It was a puma. Dave stood absolutely dumbfounded listening to this strange deep throat mix of a growl and bark coming from the undergrowth. Concerned that he had may have separated a mother from her cub he walked away. The next day we met a big cat expert who told us that seeing a Puma is very rare in this area and that the calls were either warning a cub to stay low or the cat was vomiting food up to make itself light to run away quickly. Wow.
We are hoping to meet up with our Malaysian friends who are driving a rally. Buenos Aires to Caracas in 30 days - it confirms our suspicions that they are a little crazy! Ha ha
When we do meet them we are reminded of how much we love the Malay people. These guys have rented two cattle barges to tow them up the river from Corumba to Porto Jofre - it has to be done under the cover of darkness as passengers are not allowed. After a far too brief meeting we wave goodbye to them as they disappear into the darkness singing ‘We are sailing’! Mad, mad, mad.
Fiesta in Corumba, Brazil v Portugal screened in a fuel station and our crazy Malaysian friends - Alyna and Atek.
One of the few bad bridges.                 Smile for the tourists son!!                 Capybara are everywhere.
A collared anteater, a coati and a giant anteater. Fabulous!
A beautiful but busy place to spend the night.             A wonderful Nandu and a lovely water bird.
Searching for jaguar prints, a giant 1.4m Jabiru bird and chicks in a high nest and a marsh deer at sunset.
A endangered Hyacinth Macaw, a very hard to photograph Toucan and a beautiful curious owl.
There is one animal left that we are desperate to see - the Giant Otter. We’ve had no success trying to find them by ourselves so we visit one of the ranches and go on a boat trip. It was well worth the money, not only did we feed caiman and water birds with some tasty piranha but we finally got to see the otters. What amazed us most was how noisy they were - they were splashing around fishing furiously whilst chattering loudly to each other, hidden behind some dense foliage.  Curiosity and our guide calling to them brought them out to see who had arrived. What a wonderful treat for us. Unforgettable. We tear ourselves away from the Pantanal to drive over to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, to meet up with some friends.