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- Visiting South America
Travel with Hafeez to Brazil - Part II
On 30thJune, 2005, I had a good breakfast and moved my gear to the nearby international bus station. After about 10 minutes wait, the bus to Campo Grande was sighted. I showed my reservation to the driver and entered in, traced my seat and sat on it with a thud. It was a sort of luxury coach with soft and reclining seats. By pulling a lever and pushing my back, I came to a reclining position. There were foot-rests providing an added comport.
My destination, Campo Grande was 650 km away, involving a minimum bus travel of 11 hours. To pass the time, I started recalling recent events in the world thanks to Internet and news on TVs. It worried me that crude oil had gone up to $60 a barrel and wondered if a re-run of recession was on the cards. This oil surge would certainly cause inflation and affect my savings in Pakistan. Perhaps, I should diversify from fixed-income bonds to real-estate or bullion or share market. But I was far away from home and could do nothing. So I diverted my thoughts to Silvia Pessoa, a slim and sleek samba-dancer. Last night, she appeared in the variety show and thrilled the spectators with her rhythmical movements and tender smiles. I was completely lost and dozed off.
(As of now, 20-Dec-09, oil prices are at 74$ per barrel against a peak price of $147 in July 08 following concern over the Iranian Missile Test)
On way to Campo Grande
From Foz do Iguacu, the bus back-tracked for 132 km to Casacavel where I had the fright of my life when someone said “rattle-snake”. Actually, it was nickname of Casacavel City, the bus was passing by. Thereafter, the bus turned straight up-north without any bend. It had a stop at Ponta Pora, a bustling border-town sharing its streets with a Paraguayan town, Pedro Juan Caballero. Electronics were very cheap but who would buy them while on a trek.
Next stop was Dourados, a city in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. There was extensive farming of sugar cane. In July, its harvesting was on its peak and trucks loaded with sugar cane occasionally obstructed the traffic flow. There were many distilleries converting molasses into ethanol which was being used as an alternate fuel. Throughout Brazil, fuel stations had pumps marked A for alcohol (ethanol) and G for gasoline. Ethanol fuel was about 45% cheaper.
The bus reached the city at about 8 p.m. I looked around and found a hotel directly across the bus station. Luckily, it had a room with bath and breakfast for about $25. (Hotel Campo Grande, Rua 13 de maio, 2825. Tel.(67) 3324-8349). It was already late in the evening and I went to sleep.
Next day, I explored the city. It was a pleasant place in the midst of cattle country of Brazil. Some called it a brown city because of the soil color. Its downtown area was rather small with tree-lined boulevards. It had a nice museum of natural history and native culture under the name of Dom Bosco Museum. Another attraction was Parque do Prosa, a central park with running tracks, lakes and restaurants.
Next day, I moved around looking for a tour company. I spotted one but their charges were $250 per day. It was a shocking start but I continued my hunt. Soon I was able to locate a travel joint which suited my pockets. For a three-night four-day spree, the charges were $120. The tour company was an old set up reputed for its walking safari and hammocks for sleeping. Its name was Pantanal Trekking tour, Rua Joachim Nabuco – 185 Centro ( just across the bus terminal). There were a lot of visitors as Campo Grande is also on the way of the many backpackers who are coming and going on the route to La Paz, in Bolivia, and Machu Pichu, in Peru.
A walk in the city
I just walked in the city. It was winter, temperature around 20 C. Because day was sunny, I was wearing only light woolen clothes. I tasted a soft-drink Guarana. It came in various flavors. (Guarana is actually a plant and its fruit is like berries. Its juice is used to make the drink). Another good food is Granola made out of nuts, honey, and oats. It could be eaten with strawberries, milk, bananas and yogurt. Being fibrous, it proved good for stomach.
At lunch time, I had a ‘per kilo’ buffet. I loaded my plate with peixe a delicia (broiled or grilled fish), arroz (white rice), feijao (black bean), carne (steak) and galinha (chicken) and then had it weighted at the counter. The weight was less than a kilo. (Normal charges were US$ 5 per kilo.
On way to Pantanal
On Sunday, the 3rdJuly, 2005 our tour company engaged a coach for transporting a group of about 15 persons to Pantanal. It was quite far nearly 560 km away. The group was mix of Americans from South and North plus a family from Germany. I was the only Asian and perhaps the only one not knowing a word of Spanish. But we mixed up well and drive turned comfortable. The area was flat and fertile. There were not much towns or human settlements but wilderness. Palm and cerrado trees were in abundance. The area was known for ranches with a minimum of 2000 cows in each farm.
The first stop was about 148 km away to a place called Aquidauana. We stopped by a restaurant just for stretching our legs and to have a hot cup of Brazilian coffee. We continued for another 150 km and had a good lunch and rest at a road-side cafe. Eventually, we stopped near Corumba, about 425 km away from Campo Grande. The place was known as Buraco Das Piranhas, a little stop in the middle of nowhere.
This was an entry point to Pantanal from south. We were shifted to a truck with hard seat. The truck moved on a dirt road and gave us a good jolt when crossing rickety wooden bridges. Pantanal was the largest flooded lowland on the planet. Luckily, July was a dry season and the raised dirt road was motor-able. But there were water channels cutting the road after every 100 meters or so to be crossed by shaky wooden bridges. The wetlands seem to go on for ever. We sustained the jumps and concentrated on flock of birds mostly jabiro strokes, parrots and ibis. Our guide was quit knowledgeable with good English and told us about names of birds, plants and animals. A good sight was blossoming of yellow and pink flowers.Even when we were moving, we saw a great diversity of the fauna like alligators, fish, capybaras, tapirs, hart-of-Pantanal, garça, plough-blue and tuiuiú.
After a long time, the truck left the dirt road and crossed a large number of ranches. The guide dutifully opened and closed the wooden gates one after another like a robot. Perhaps after crossing over sixty ranches we reached the base camp.
It was like a garden with some construction. There was a hall with thatched roofs, fully protected screened because of mosquitoes. Inside, there were a series of hammocks for sleeping. Restrooms were a little away in a well-lit area. Adequate arrangements were made for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Besides there was a kiosk for tea, coffee and soft drinks against reasonable payment. The camp was laden with trees and one could see the birds just by peeping out of the hammock.
With nothing planned for the evening, we kicked on our hammocks and caught up on some sleep
Birdlife in Pantanal
Birds and animals
At about 4 a.m. in the morning, we woke up with sounds of birds, chirping and squawking. It was their greeting to a new day. Soon we headed for a light breakfast and then went for a jungle walk. Everyone applied a good quantity of mosquito repellent but did not foresee the problem of ticks. Most ended up removing few little blood suckers from legs especially ladies who were wearing shorts.
July was the best period for bird-watching. In the early morning, there was a magnificent spectacle of thousands of birds flying. According to WWF, there were 650 species of birds in Pantanal wetland. We saw abundance of the hyacinth macaws, the toucans, the green parakeets. Up in the trees were many monkeys and birds like ibis, rose-bill, spoonbill and jabiru storks.
It was a mild cold, 25 degree Celsius and was very pleasant to follow the guide pointing towards one bird after another. On the way, we sighted many animals like armadillos, anteaters, caimans, pumas, alligators, howler monkeys, giant otters and foxes. It was a delight to see Capybara, the world’s largest rodent resembling a giant brown hamster.
The Pantanal, the largest fresh water marsh, has miles and miles of savannas, forests, rivers and lagoons. The last rainy season had exploded the area with plant life. Birds had returned as water receded. In July, water holes had dried up, the trees had shed their leaves. The area becomes wide open and lot of birds were seen without binocular. During our walk, we saw more birds with our ears than our eyes. We heard them behind us or in front of us and in all directions as we craned our necks to.
Horse Riding in Pantanal
We returned after about three hours, had another bout of breakfast and sought refuge in our hammocks. Next to me was Jim Morrison, not the American poet but a teacher from Harvard Business School. He told me that world over, students cared for good grades and not necessarily good knowledge. Any teacher who wanted to be strict and honest would be poorly rated in students’ evaluation which would reflect obliquely on his or her career.
Same day, after lunch, we rode skinny horses. Being higher, we could see far off area. Riding a horse, one could go near to animal which was not possible by walking. There were few roads and a horse could carry anyone through water, mud or bushes. The ride was nice, the horse very gentle but it bruised the bum in the process. We trailed giant anteater, passed through ankle-deep water, followed herd of white lipped peccaries. Many a time, we stopped to watch breeding herds of rheas feed in the shade of a tree.
It was a long day, making me dead tired and I slept like a log in my hummock.
Bird of Paradise - Toucan
Canoeing and fishing
Next dawn was as usual, awakening by the early morning with clatter of the jungle filled with an endless variety of bird notes. I came out of hammock and sat in the open area on a bench. Next to me was a young Colombian girl, Katherine Caicedo Castillo from some other group. She told me that she was traveling solo for the past two years in the South American Continent. “Who is meeting your expenses?” I asked casually. “What do you mean, I have my own funds”, she replied sharply. I didn't say but my response was “I don't think so, you do have assets but not much funds.”
At about 11 am, we went for canoeing. It was amazing besides being serene. We headed upstream. The river was full of black speckled caimans (like small crocodiles). Some were out on the grass basking in the sun. Bright colored kingfishers were having a hay day catching fish through a nose dive.
We came out of the canoe at an opening and tried to fish Piranha. Everyone changed to swimming costume and stood in the water upto waist with rudimentary fishing rods – a long bamboo pole with hook and line. The Paraguay River offered large and varied types of fish. We caught nasty looking piranhas and another fish called snake head. Piranha is a dangerous fish especially red-bellied. Never try to catch them with bare hands, they have sharp razor teeth and are known for a voracious appetite for meat. The guide told us dreaded stories of river water boiling and churning red with blood as a school of piranha was in a feeding frenzy.
The evening meal was delicious with fried piranha on the top of usual dinner. Afterwards, while we were going to our hut, the guide invited us for a night safari. Scanning the banks with a flashlight, we spotted a pair of blazing red eyes on the shoreline. While cats' eyes are green, caimans are unmistakably red-blood. The walk was exciting. Everyone was constantly at guard, afraid of the dangers that were visible or not. Was that a panther or a shadow? All around us was green grass or tall trees and I dreaded with the thought of a monster staring at me from above or below, left or right.
At long last, we returned to our base and settled into our hammocks for the night. The jungle was still alive: monkeys howled in the distance, birds cried out from nearby trees, and crickets and frogs sang in an uneven cadence. It was a jungle night.
Early next morning, we waved goodbye to the friendly people at the camp and went to Campo Grande. On reaching there, I retrieved my carryon and papers from the tour office company and walked to the bus station across the road. Another sleepless night was in offing as I was going straight to Brasilia, 890 km, hacking a 15 hours bus-ride.