Tuesday, 28 October 2008
The Patanal - Brazil
I knew we were going to have a fun time on our 4 day wetlands trip when, early in the morning, Mr Bean´s long lost brother bounded into the tour office and announced he was in our group. Alex is one of those people to which bad things happen, comedy bad things, but bad all the same. We were half an hour late leaving because he had bought himself a big secure padlock for his backpack... then promptly lost the key. The locksmith was duly dispatched to deal with the problem and eventually we were on our way. Alex was enthusiastic about EVERYTHING! I envied him his cheerful persona, but couldn´t help wondering if it was slightly misguided, given life clearly had it in for him. Anyway fast forward several long hours and we arrived at our 'rustic' wetlands lodge. For rustic read tumbledown, mouse ridden and in severe danger of slipping into the river. Not that I was complaining, we didn´t sign up for 5* luxury and we were not disappointed. Our activity for the afternoon was a boat safari up the River Miranda, so we donned our oh so attractive lifejackets and hopped on board. To say the pilot had a death wish was perhaps an understatement. I don´t know a whole lot about jungle animals, but when mere inches away from a hungry looking caimen, I am pretty sure the appropriate response is flight. I don´t think I have ever been so scared in all my life, mind I did manage to provoke it further by pointing my camera at it. I was at this point rathr surprised to observe that it didn´t chose to at least take a pop at Alex, he seemed a likely target. Back on dry land and I started to feel very odd indeed. The rest of the night is somewhat of a blur, but did see me communing with God on the big white telephone for the most part. I woke in the morning feeling like death and was hauled on to a jeep and forced to walk around the wetlands for several hours in the searing heat, looking for an anaconda. An anaconda that had apparently not been seen for 5 years. Still, when in Rome etc. I did get to see, among other things some awesome black howler monkeys, armadillo, capybara, macaws, deer, otters, more caimen, a lot of birds and a ginger kitten with fleas (bonus wildlife). That night, caimen hunting. Our crazed guide Pepino decided to find a baby caimen, pick it up, make us touch it and then to run away very fast from its rather irritated momma. I am not sure this was very ecofriendly but there was no arguing with him. At this point Melissa decided to develop my exorcist style illness and took over bathroom duties for the night. Guilty feelings abound as I couldn´t remember if I had breathed on her or not.
Day 3 saw us fishing for piranha. Alex was up first, so excitd was he to catch something he screamed, yelled, jumped and eventually whacked the poor thing in to the bank where it tolled off the hook and back into the river to continue its fishy journey through life. I caught a modest sized fish after several hours of trying. Ok, it wouldn´t have looked out of place on a maternity ward, but hey, it was my first ever fish! Thankfully both Vicci and the guides were more successful and so our fried piranha lunch was a tasty success, tasting in fact not like chicken, but like a cod supper, mmmm. After the fishing we dangled our bottoms in big rubber rings and went tubing down the river. Yes, the same river from whence lunch had originated, and from which many pairs of caimen eyes followed our every move. Well, all of us in fact, except for Alex, who had half climbed out the boat then changed hi mind and couldn´t get back in, instead choosing to cling like a limpet to the side of the vessel, one leg in and one out, til our guide decided enough was enough and more or less shoved him in. At this point he discovered he was in fact so tall that he could walk parts of the journey and seemed a bit less scared. I think he probably thought that was the worst of the day over, but instead we spent the afternoon horse riding. How the poor horse took his weight I don´t know, but it toiled on. Pepino was basically in total horsey control and they marched to his beat. Being the obvoius sadist that he was, he decided to make the horses run, fast, ignoring Alex´s pleas, first to Pepino "Please Pepino, nooooooo", then directly to the horse "Horse, no, horse, stop" etc. To say I spent the 2 hours wetting myeslf laughing would be an understatement, I nearly died right there upon my ride.
That evening, after a few beers to help the saddle sore, we sat round a campfire with our rater inebriated guides Marcello and Pepe. At some undefined point they decided that what they really wanted to do was swim in the river. The dark, cold, caimen/piranha infested river. At some other unspecified point it was decreed we would join them. In fact I was still making this decision, stood by the side of the river in my underwear, when a naked Marcello came flying at me and Vicci screaming "VAMOS" and shoved us in. It was an experience. A cold, dark one, but quite funny all the same. Thankfully we hauled ourself out the river in time to avoid the biggest storm since October 1987. We had comissioned Alex to take a photo of the momentous occasion, but he just seemed to keep taking pictures of a naked Marcello, who was pleading with him in at least 4 different languages to stop, however Alex had been posessed by the spirit of some papparazzi gone by and would not stop snapping. I got back to the room to find a massive spider had moved in to the spare bunk and was proud to realise I hadn´t run out the door screaming. It was still too big to move though, a cup that size had yet to be invented so I let it on its way.
The next morning we packed our bags, went toucan spotting, watched another group being far worse than us at piranha fishing (of course) and bid a fond farewell to the Pantanal, and Alex, who was last seen being dragged down the river by the very hungry crocodile...