We have some way to go before we get to the Pantanal, a natural environment rivalling with the Amazon in the far west of the country. So to get there we split up the journey in different blocks to make it as bearable as possible. First being a 9 hour drive from Ouro Preto to Barretos, with Sven being sick (we could have known that after being so happy so far not having had any stomach problems it would hit us one day) so all driving for mom. We left on time and the roads were actually quite okay, leaving the rain of Ouro Preto after 1 hour or so and making a dash through the Minas Gerais countryside.
Barretos Country Thermal Park
We arrive in Barretos as the sun sets, and we need a quick search to find our apartment here. We also realize another mistake in booking accommodation – a kitchen does not always mean a stove! So we sneak in our gas camping stove to at least be able to cook a meal here. We prepare a quick one and go to bed, as everybody is completely exhausted after this long day in the car.
We decided to have a day out in an aquapark to break up the journey, and to make sure we make good on a promise made to the boys that we would go to a waterpark once in our trip. It turns out to be a great choice and on Friday nice and quiet, with different areas for different ages and plenty of slides to be entertained all day. Sven mostly enjoys the sitting on a loungebed and trying to feel better, while the boys are off enjoying all the attractions all day.
Brazilian hospitality on our way to Pantanal
Having Airbnb is such a blessing when traveling, and with long drives into the back end of Brazil arriving at a welcoming home is always a joy. We have met many great hosts along the way, and would not hesitate to recommend any of them if you plan to travel through Brasil. Ines in Ilha Soltheira, with whom we rented a room in her house, was one of those where we really felt at home. With our Portuguese being very limited our travels through the country have been still smooth and met with kindness of all Brazilians, but it also leaves you with a lot of questions.
Ines was kind enough to invite her son who speaks perfect English to talk to us and answer all our questions about this beautiful country, while she spoiled us with homemade tapioca soup and lots of goodies for the boys while they played with her grand daughter Gabriella. It is these encounters that are so valuable when traveling, to hear the different point of views and make sense of some of the funny customs you run into. We have again become more travel wise and of course were sad to leave this fantastic home away from home.
But we had to go because another natural highlight was awaiting; the Pantanal! Often overlooked by travelers, or when in doubt the preference goes to the Amazon to visit rather than this region. For all the wrong reasons we think, as the Pantanal is an enormous wetland area, which means that part of the year it is inundated, while the other part of the year it is easy to visit. More importantly, because it lacks the massive and dense forests of the Amazon, wildlife watching actually becomes much easier. Known for its bird variety and some pretty spectacular mammals, we pull out the list we made in the Curitiba zoo and keep our fingers crossed.
Getting to the Pantanal is not difficult, but we decide to take the transit offered by our accommodation, meaning we leave our trusted car at a diner along the road. We first get picked up with a van that is packed with tourists and locals (and is 1,5 hours late to the scheduled departure… making us realize how great it is to have your own wheels here :-)) and with the boys on our laps set out the first 100km on the main road towards Bolivia. We have a quick stop at a bridge overlooking a massive amount of caimans all lazing around the pool of water.
Now we are not necessarily scared of animals, but a caiman is not your friendliest we feel – also, in the back of our minds are the salties of northern Australia, some of the meanest and largest crocodile types in the world. Nevertheless, when given the opportunity to pet one, of course you can not resist and Bo bravely lets himself get picked up to have a feel of the tail while another sneaks up on him from the back. We count on it to go for the chubby driver first, but of course nothing happens and we continue our journey.
Next is a crossroads where an open truck is waiting for us to take us on the 30km dirt road towards the pousada we are staying in. Along the way we see marsh deer and plenty of exotic birds flying along, like tucans and very large aras. It is a bumpy ride, but we enjoy the sun setting and the temperatures dropping while we peer across the swampland to try and find other animals, most importantly; the jaguar!
At the pousada we are welcomed by the staff and our tour guide Tony who explains about the accommodation and its amenities. In the meantime the local ara population comes out for a daily snack provided by the pousada which means we can get a closer look at these beautiful big wild birds. Activities are done early morning and late afternoon to beat the heat and the schedule is updated everyday. With 3 nights here we are in for almost everything the pousada has to offer, so we get excited!
A beautiful local dinner is served, with plenty of options and some new things we have not tasted yet like sweet pumpkin paste as a dessert, and a flour mix with vegetable. As we opted for a dorm bed, but we are only a few tourists, we have all the dorm beds to ourselves in the room so we pick the one we like best (turns out we all choose the bottom bed) and call it a night. 6:30 alarm and 7:30 departure will push you to get an early sleep!
As we wake up and head out to breakfast (which by the way is a real treat to have somebody else take care of the meals, especially while our F&B manager Sven is still on the mend) we are welcomed by a troop of wild peccary (pigs) that roam the premises. Of course they are very cute (especially the babies) and as some get very curious Bo can again not resist to give them a little pet on the back. The host warns us they are still wild animals, and a few minutes later we see one in action with the spiny hair straight up chasing down a cat – YIKES!
Todays program is a boat ride along the river, with some piranha fishing. We manage to tick off a few animals here again like the river otter, some more capibara and a range of kingfishers, but no jaguar unfortunately. Together with a group of Israeli youngsters we make an attempt to fish for piranhas, but it seems we are no experts and we only catch 1 (Tamil did), which is hardly enough for dinner…
The afternoon is set out for some fun in the pool (the boys steal the trampoline from the gym to get into the pool with a big jump), after which we drive out to a hike in the woods. Getting there we manage to tick off one high on the list: the GIANT ANTEATER! Very cool, it is seen by Bo in the fields and a really impressive sight with a tail as big as its body, slowly but surely covering every inch of the field looking for the juiciest ants. On the hike we see some monkeys and other birds, and then as we drive back the sun has set so we put the spotlight on the side of the road. Unfortunately again no jaguar…
Next day we start the morning with a horseback ride in the countryside. After our ride to the condors in Argentina Luc now has the confidence to take his own horse, and is assigned to the cutest horse of the stable; Homario. It is love at first sight and Luc has an amazing time actually getting into some good tempo as well! Bo alternates between the horses of mom and dad while enjoying the scenery. Again no luck on the jaguar, but there is something really relaxing about sitting on a horse out in nature… of course ignoring the fact that the pain in the ass will come afterwards :-).
For the afternoon, Tony has granted us another try of catching piranhas, this time at the campsite of the pousada. We are greeted by a dozen caimans eager to get in on the action, while we attempt again with some fresh beef on our rods to catch dinner. First one to catch a piranha is mom, then Bo is a lucky one, but in the end Sven actually catches a whopping 12 (!!) piranhas, which means we have enough for dinner this time!
The fish are cleaned by Tony and then brought back to the pousada to be prepared for our dinner, which is actually quite gratifying… As Tamil also caught 1 this time, he is of course invited to the feast ;-p, and it has to be said, when prepared well a fried piranha is actually very tasty! The boys mostly play with the scary teeth, hahaha. We spend another evening talking to Tamil about our countries and the traveling we are doing before we hit our dorm one last time.
Next morning we go on another hike, this time closer to the pousada, where Tony tells us a bit more about the local plants and trees (creating a bunch of flowers for mom). We find tracks from tapirs (mom and baby), snakes and other animals, but only see an armadillo live on the walk. With this walk we close off our time in this part of the Pantanal, take another dive in the pool (and a clean after it) and then the owner of the pousada kindly drives us back to our car… on to the next adventure – and hopefully a jaguar sighting!
Next week: Our final week in Brazil