Brazil Pantanal Safari
I had been flying 21 hours on four different planes. The last plane was a small six seater, which landed 500 metres from the farm where I was to stay for the next five days. I disembarked and was greeted by a Chinese host. Imagine my surprise- I was in Brazil, in the Pantanal and I, myself, am Chinese.
Located in the upper Paraguay River basin, the Pantanal is the worldâ€™s largest wetland. The area holds one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife on the planet with more than 650 bird species, 80 mammals, 50 reptiles and 250 species of fish.
I stayed at the Fazenda de Rio Negro, a secluded farm and rooming house on 7,700 hectares. The next morning, as instructed by my guide, I taped my pants to my socks using masking tape to keep out the ticks and other crawlies from my legs. I hopped onto a jeep and ventured past the farm gates into the giant marshland.
I saw animals I had never heard of before or never even knew existed. I spotted capybaras all throughout the jeep drive. In groups of three or five and in larger groups of ten near the watering holes The worldâ€™s largest rodent, which looks like a guinea pig, was everywhere. Two vibrant red and green macaws swooped overhead. We left the car and began our trail walk.
Up in the trees, I saw three brown howler monkeys. The monkeys watched us. Several minutes later they threw little feces pellets at us. â€śThey throw their poo because their scared,â€ť our guide said. An hour into the walk, plodding along about 500 metres in front of us was an anteater. I gasped at this moving mound of stiff brown straw-hair with a bushy tail and an oddly shaped narrow head. On our trek, I also crossed paths with a tapir, a pig like creature with a longer protruding snout.
After we returned to the farm, I relaxed in the yard. I sipped my caipirinha (a cocktail made with limes, cachaca, a Brazilian sugar cane liqueur, and sugar) and listened to the cricket noises of the Pantanal. Under the stars the farm workers showed off their dancing skills. Their hips had a fast rhythmic and hypnotic sway to the samba beat.
The next day, they took me out on the river in a small motor boat for another day full of wildlife sights. This time, instead of capybaras, I saw caimans everywhere along the riverbank. These small alligators lay lethargically on the shore of this shallow and murky brown river. We floated past a river otter trying to perch itself on a log. High up in the trees, I glimpsed an enormous empty nest. A few minutes later, a jabiru stork, the tallest flying bird in South America, flew home.
Back at the farm, we played a twilight soccer game, the Brazilians versus the guests. The locals playing in their bare feet defeated the tourists 3-0.
On my last day, while I was sitting at the picnic table eating breakfast, a toco toucan flew to the nearby fruit tree. Its beak was a dazzling orange, like something out of a cartoon. I stared at the bird, all the while dreading my long journey home. I was so taken with the animals and the lifestyle of the locals who call the Pantanal home.
Well.... Maybe the Fazenda could use another Chinese host.