Caught up in a caiman face off

Think a canoe trip in the Pantanal region on Brazil is a quiet affair? Think again!

(Visiting the Brazil stand at the World Travel Market yesterday made me think back to this most memorable of days during my solo trip to this incredible country)  

Today we’re talking reptiles and mammals and despite the night safari being cancelled due to high winds, the 7am 4km walk through the neighbouring area showed up a whole array of strange and exotic creatures. That may sound like an early start to some of you, but believe me, it’s impossible to sleep past 5am as a cacophony of birds, ably led by the extremely loud and ubiquitous chaco chachalaca, shake you out of your bed whether you’re ready or not. (Side note here – I am awarding the chaco chachalaca my ‘how to big yourself up’ award as it has a fabulous name that sounds like a samba step and a call like nothing you’ve ever heard before yet it is the dullest and most boring looking thing you’ve ever seen. The thing is, everyone knows it and it is completely unforgettable  – a great job of self-publicity that we could all learn from!)

Back to the morning walk and it wasn’t long until we came across howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, yellow armadillo, marsh deer, and South American coati.


In nature, with love – Araras Eco Lodge

It takes a long time to get to the Pantanal from London. An overnight flight to Sao Paulo, a lengthy 5 hour layover in the domestic terminal which boasts a Subway and not much else, a further 2 hour flight to Cuiaba and then an onward 2 hour drive up the Transpantaniera Park Road; most of which is nothing more than a dirt road stretching out into the distance. You have to really want to get there but boy is it worth the trouble. My destination was the Araras Eco Lodge  and it would be my home for the next 4 nights.

The drive itself was quite eventful. My driver spoke no English and my Portuguese runs out after por favor and obrigada (note to self, I really need to learn how to order beer and wine at the earliest opportunity) but we muddled along famously and as soon as we hit the dirt road he was pointing out the jaw dropping array of birds foraging for food in the wetlands that lined the side of the road. Hundreds and hundreds of them, every species imaginable, on every post, tree top and telegraph wire. I had seen nothing like it.


This was just the beginning of what was to become a most memorable adventure. As we arrived at the lodge I was greeted by the friendly, smiling staff and from that point onwards nothing was too much trouble. My room was comfortable and spotlessly clean with every all amenities, all provided whilst upholding their strong ecological principles. At dinner that evening I was introduced to Edson, who would be guide throughout my stay. His smile was infectious and his knowledge quite incredible and he made every day interesting and enjoyable.

Life at the lodge settled into a calm, relaxed rhythm. Breakfast around 6 am – the freshly baked cheese bread incentive enough to jump out of bed early  –  and then a day filled with a mixture of foot, canoe, horse or jeep safaris and down time to read, chat to the other guests, laze by the pool or nap. A spectacular lunch and dinner buffet, offering a vast array of local, lovingly prepared dishes, made sure that no one ever went hungry. Oh, and just in case that wasn’t enough, freshly baked cakes were served during afternoon tea at 3!


Arars Eco Lodge is situated in its own vast grounds, which means that you really don’t need to stray far at all to see caiman, toucans, capybara, parrots, blue macaws, woodpeckers, herons, ibis, storks, vultures, lapwings, kingfishers, egrets, plus many, many other species – they are absolutely everywhere – and during the safaris monkeys, armadillos, anteater (giant and small), marsh deer, emus, coati, were common place. The Jaguars, for which the Pantanal is particularly famous, are only really visible during July, August and September, the dry season, when the wetlands dry up completely and the vegetation dies away; something to bear in mind if you are planning a trip there and particularly want to see them.

For me, it’s onwards to Rio and a completely difference experience. I’ll miss the sunset over the river and the birds flying in for the night to sleep; the peace and quiet. Oh and I’ll also actually miss those bloody chaco chachalacas, screeching at 5 am in the morning and making sure that I was never, ever late for the freshly baked cheese bread.


Cowboys, Caipirinhas and Condensed Milk

Brazilians, it seems,  have a very sweet tooth. Take for example the national cocktail, the Caipirinha, made with cachaça, sugar and lime – a heady, lethal mix of the very sweet with just the right amount of sour. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, it would appear that the best Caipirinhas for some miles around are located in a bar right next door to the lodge where I am staying. What are the chances of that?

On the side of the Transpantaneira Park Road is the Baras Bar, which is where we ended up for sundowners yesterday evening after a particularly eventful late afternoon safari involving Edson, horses and a giant anteater. More on that later.

I can confirm that the Caipirinhas were indeed fantastic and it was whilst on our second round of drinks that the only other occupant of the bar strolled over to share with us his photos of a jaguar spotted a few hours earlier just kilometres up the road.  Sadly I will not get to see this spectacular creature before I leave tomorrow morning, as I am reliably informed that it is particularly difficult to encounter them in this region until August or September, when all of the undergrowth has died down. As disappointed as I am by this, I can honestly say that my amazing wildlife experiences over the past few days have more than made up for this. Each foot or jeep safari has introduced me to such a huge variety of creatures and during each of these excursions my trusty guide Edson has done a fabulous job of spotting even the most camouflaged iguanas, armadillos and coati.

Yesterday afternoon, however, as he led us through the wetlands on a late afternoon horse back safari, he came into his own. The light was fading and we hadn’t really seen anything of note when suddenly Edson pointed ahead to something in the undergrowth; a large ball of fur, which turned out to be a giant anteater. The startled animal looked up, saw us approaching and headed off across the ground at breakneck speed. Quick as a flash Edson spurred on his horse and set off, cowboy style, to give chase.  He was magnificent and moments later he appeared from behind the trees, corralling the anteater in front of my stationary horse to provide a fleeting yet priceless photo opportunity. What a guy!

Edson and the giant anteater

Dinner last night was a quiet affair as most of the guests had departed during the day – the end of a local holiday weekend – giving us the chance to reflect on the afternoons excitement over yet another wonderful evening meal. Of particular note was the dessert. Those who know me well will confirm that I don’t really do desserts, yet I found myself reaching for a second helping of the passion fruit mousse. Possibly a bit of a misnomer, the ‘mousse’ was a mix of condensed milk, sugar and local passion fruit – teeth achingly sweet and yet completely delicious – the sour hit of the fresh passion fruit brilliantly countering the sickliness of the cream. It seems that condensed milk features in many desserts here and I for one am all in favour if it. Whisked back to my childhood, it reminds me of special teatime treats and birthday parties and I’m already looking forward to tonights version of a similar offering, lime mousse. Before that though there’s my last afternoon walk with Edson. We’re heading to a local vantage point to watch the birds settle into the trees for the evening. It should be quiet and uneventful but in the Pantanal with Edson as your guide you just never know!



I’m turning into a bit of a twitcher

I never thought I’d say this but I am turning into an avid bird watcher. True, when I booked this trip to the Pantanal, I was promised jaguars, cougars, and all kinds of mammals but, as if often my luck, it would appear that I am not quite at the right place at the right time for any of these. This however, is not really worrying me as I am completely blown away by the sheer number and incredible variety of the birds here. From the minute we hit the Transpantaneira road – a dirt track that cuts through the wetlands and runs for miles through the region – there were birds everywhere. Egrets, storks, cormorants and herons wading through the water, kingfishers on every telegraph wire, all kinds of birds of prey sat on random posts. I have really never seen anything quite like it before.

American Woodstork, Bare Faced Ibis, & Striated Heron

An evenings turn around the grounds of the lodge introduced me to Blue Fronted Parrots, Tiger Herons, Yellow Billed Cardinals,  Greater Rheas and White Woodpeckers.

Blue Fronted Parrot
Great  Rhea

But the highlight of the day for me was the incredible sunset spectacle of hundreds of Cormorants, Ibis and Egrets arriving at one particular tree in order to spend the night. Bathed in the reddest of lights, the tree literally ‘boiled’ with these birds and the pre-bedtime sound that they made was completely deafening. And then, just as suddenly as the sun dropped, they stopped their screeching and all was calm. What a peaceful end to a very long day.

Amazonian Kingfisher

Coming tomorrow….it’s not all about the birds, embarrassing plumbing, and why safaris are a great option for the solo female traveller.



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