Day 80: Roughing It

Thur. 1st November 2012

Queuing to leave BoliviaWith the train rocking and bouncing around, it was a pretty mixed night’s sleep. Opinion was divided as to whether or not it was better than the night bus. In any event, the surreptitious bottle of wine that we drank last night was certainly a good idea. When we woke around 7, the train was going backwards – we don’t know when it turned around (so, I suppose we can’t have slept that  badly) and an hour later it pulled in to the town of Puerto Quijarro on the Brazilian border. A road sign said 594km to Santa Cruz, so we have come a long way and are now pretty much right in the middle of South America.

A short taxi ride took us to the border post and then it was the familiar ritual of queuing at the immigration station to get our passport stamped. Looking at the notice on the door, we were surprised to see that the border post is only open 8-12 and 2-6 (and only 8-12 at weekends). You really wouldn’t want to arrive late, as the town really did not look like it was filled with places to stay and things to do. Equally surprisingly, the queue at the Brazilian immigration station was longer than that at the Bolivian side – and there was some significant queue barging going on. At least we are getting used to filling in the immigration forms.

[Editors note: We have just found out that the other group that we will meet in the Pantanal tonight and who were travelling in the other direction (i.e. to Bolivia) hadn’t realised that it was a Bank Holiday in Brazil today (Friday) and arrived at the border crossing just after it closed. They will have to spend an unplanned 24 hours longer in Brazil and will not be happy bunnies!]

Heading through the PantanalFor the next couple of weeks, we need to put aside our Spanish and remember the very little Portuguese we know (Bom Dia not Buenos Dias, Obrigado not Gracias – fortunately, cerveza still seems to work!). We also need to get used to the temperature and humidity which both came as a bit of a shock after our time at altitude and the air-conditioned train. In the mid to high 30s it was a lot hotter than we were used to (and probably even hotter than Cuba).

Our truck - not exactly luxury transportAs we drove in our minibus from the border into the Pantanal wetlands, where we will be spending the next couple of days, the change of scenery and landscape was very noticeable. Gone were the mountains and valleys and rocks and cacti, and instead it was flat as far as we could see with green grasslands and trees. Once we got off the tarmac road, we changed from our comfy, air-conditioned minibus, to an open-sided truck (natural air-conditioning). This had the lumpiest, roughest sounding engine I’ve ever heard (worse than the Cuban taxis!). We then chugged and bounced along a dirt road interspersed with wooden bridges over creeks and streams  as we headed deeper into the Pantanal.

On the way, we started to see some of the wildlife that the Pantanal is famous for – the Jabiru Stork (the emblem for the park); Capybara (water pigs) and, by one of the muddy pools, Caymen. It bodes well for our nature spotting ahead.

Down on the farmWith Brazil being an hour ahead of Bolivia, not only are we now only 3 hours behind the UK, but it was also nearly 3pm by the time that we arrived at Fazenda Sao Joao, our eco-lodge for the next two nights. We are completely Lee Marvin (starvin’) by the time we arrive as breakfast was but a single banana and a couple of biscuits. One of the biggest disadvantages of these long bus & train journeys is that it is very hard to eat any decent food – typically, it is all crisps, biscuits & sweets. Lunch was a mix of pasta, rice & beans with a little meat added to each of the above. OK, but a far cry from the food we had on the Inca Trail.

Hammocks not for the faint heartedThe fazenda (farm?) consists of a group of wooden huts. We have been briefed that we will be sleeping in a single dormitory in hammocks whilst we are here – even so, we are a little worried when we spot a large circular hut with lots of hammocks but no walls. Fortunately, this is just a communal area and our dormitory hut does have walls (and hammocks and very little else). After lunch, we head out for a guided walk into the Pantanal and head through the forest to a lake where there are a lot of Caymen lazing on the shore. Both sides seem to decide that discretion is the better part of valour and we both give each other a wide berth.

Local wildlifeSupper seems to bear a distinct similarity to lunch – spaghetti, rice & beans and some salad stuff. I hope that the menu isn’t like a record with a stuck track. As we finish supper and it gets dark outside, we are treated to a bit of a light show as we can see lightning flashing all around. Sure enough, as the evening draws on we get the first spots of rain and then it really starts to pour down. We have heard that there is a drought here and that water levels in the pools and creeks is much lower than normal – als0, we have been very lucky with the weather, so we can’t complain.

There is a rumour that the electricity is switched off at 10pm and nobody is sure how well they will sleep in hammocks in a communal dormitory, so we head back to our hammocks for an early night. Tomorrow will be horseback riding and then piranha fishing so there is plenty to look forward to.

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2 Responses to Day 80: Roughing It

  1. Rob Quickenden says:

    Well it seems you’ve not quite accomplished around the world in 80 days but wow…. What a lot you have seen…..so far!!

    What’s the best highlights so far…go on give us a top 10!!

  2. Dave says:

    Hi Rob,

    That is a really tricky question, there have been so many highlights.

    No.1 is Machu Picchu – I was surprised how dumbstruck I was. The 20mins spent sitting on a terrace just contemplating the sight and the setting will stay with me for a long time.

    Other highlights – in no particular order, and with no guarantee that they’ll be the same next time I’m asked:
    – Swimming with the turtles in Akumal;
    – Cuba (yes, all of it);
    – Chichen Itza;
    – Galapagos
    – Nasca lines

    and, definitely yes, Iguassu.

    I suspect that Janet’s list will have a few differences.

    Dave

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