We spent June and the first week of July in the UK, running around and catching up with friends and family. A few too many drinks, a lot of food and three separate birthday cakes for an old bugger who turned 60. With the festivities over, we returned to Uruguay on 8th July carrying a few extra pounds.
First stop, after collecting the van, was to spend a couple of nights with fellow travellers Graham & Angela - www.mowgli-adventures.com. As usual, great fun catching up but, as a four, we are probably not suited to more than a few days together - the wine and whisky tally was impressive.
Finally, back on the road and our goal was to return to Brazil as soon as possible and in particular the Pantanal area. For that, it was a drive north, crossing into Argentina at Paysandú, then basically covering some old ground. We then crossed the border back into Paraguay and drove north to Ponta Porã, our previous entry point into Brazil. Having completed all our exit/entry documents we drove back into Paraguay to cross into Brazil a little further north at Bela Vista, some 150km away. Luckily we knew there are no officials at the Bela Vista border.
Our first destination in Brazil was Miranda in the southern Pantanal, where we stopped at an Eco camping spot. A super friendly bunch of Iocals and a Swiss lady, Miriam, all living amidst a mishmash of small buildings/shelters. We settled down and later met Miriam, who talked about a Tapir that had been killed by a truck and said she was looking for a tarpaulin. We didn't realise at the time that this road kill was being grabbed for its meat. We woke in the morning to find the stripped skull of the Tapir and some large slabs of meat. The animal had taken a direct hit to the head. We were also shown a large venomous snake, they'd found in the garden. That was not destined for the pot, but release, at a safe distance away.
Before leaving, we took a hike into fields at the back of the property, looking for birds and a local friendly Armadillo. Luck with the former, none with the latter. Miriam then recommended we take a little detour as we headed for the Estrada Parque, a route rich in wildlife. She knew we were keen to see a Giant Anteater and she gave us lots of tips on how to spot one. Apparently when they are feeding, they blend in with the hills they are munching through. While we didn't catch any anteaters in action we did see our first Hyacinth Macaws. Quite incredible, the colours and the size and the grace.
We arrived late at the Passo do Lontra, a hotel on the Rio Miranda, which allows camping. The hotel has a 2km walkway on the wetlands adjoining the river, so the following day we went out early on the walkway (a bit rickety in places - we had climbed over the barriers clearly set up to prevent such access) and saw plenty of colourful birds, caiman (newly hatched to fully grown) and capybara. It was so good we did the walk twice.
We headed on and stopped for our second night at a large working ranch (São João) to ask about camping. The horses caught Rachel's eye and the next thing we were off on a trek through the wetlands, in search of jaguar. Great fun, but all we saw were cows, water buffalo and parrots - Hyacinth Macaws included. When we left the next morning, on either side of the ranch access track, there were multiple birds and caiman. Along the rest of the Estrada Parque (dusty main road/track) we saw plenty of bird life, including the huge Jabiru nesting up high.
We arrived in Carumbá, a large town on the Rio Paraguay and on the border with Bolivia. We had an arrangement for the next evening, to be ferried up river to Porto Jofre on a cattle barge.
We overnighted at a truckers parking. The following evening we arrived at the port to find a hive of activity as the boat and one barge was loaded with people and goods. Luckily, no cows - I think they get picked up on the return leg. Finally, it was our turn and as usual I had the pleasure of driving up the planks. Two more barges picked up en-route, one in front of us and one between us and the boat and we were off.
For the next two days we moved slowly up river, only walking to the boat for meal time and loo breaks. Finally, at 2am in the morning, some 54 hours later, we were dropped off at a small beach. Ten metres up the beach and we went straight back to bed.
At Porto Jofre we found Jaguar Camp, where we arranged two river tours for the afternoon and following morning. Both tours were terrific. We saw giant river otters, three jaguar, a small anaconda, lots of birds, one iguana and of course caiman and capybara.
The following afternoon, we enjoyed a really interesting visit to another working ranch run by Panthera. This conservation trust is protecting the jaguar and trying to educate local farmers that through different farming techniques, use of buffalo in the herd etc., they do not need to hunt the jaguar to minimise stock losses.
We then started on the long dusty road of the northern Pantanal, the Transpanteira. The route was wetland all around and there were lots of wooden bridges in serious state of disrepair. The wildlife along the route was spectacular. Birds everywhere and we must have seen at least 500 caiman, just in the last few miles. Bizarrely, amongst all these caiman, we saw two guys standing up to their waists in water, happily fishing....
We also happened across a large transporter (carrying a tractor), tipping at a precarious angle on top of one of the wooden bridges. Its weight had collapsed one side of the bridge. Luckily, we were one of the first vehicles to bypass the bridge through the mud and I imagine it was probably mud bath a little later. Having given the driver a lift to the nearest farm, we headed on, there was nothing we could do and there was wildlife to see, including our first ever Capped Heron!