Saturday, 23 June 2007

Fish Food

Camping out in the jungle you get mighty sticky and sweaty. So being by the river each morning and evening I would take a dip to clean off and freshen up. This morning there I was swimming around when a small fish decided to take a bite of a highly personal and sensitive part. It's amazing how high you can jump evn just treading water. I did not go back into the water after that, the minnows here are nasty!

Today we climbed up high through the thick humid forest to get a glimpse of the sandstone ridges that form the basis of the park, together with the many river valleys that carve their way through them.

After climbing up high we went into a dark side gorge where a waterfall dropped down. It was like a green heaven, with the green moss covered walls.

The trek out of the park was again one needing lots of change of footwear as the river was crossed and re-crossed. There was one wildlife type that I did not want to see, but did. A rather large, and very poisonous snake. Fortunately it slide off away into the undergrowth, but I kept a careful watch as to where I put my feet after that encounter.

Flip flop trek

In the jungle you wake with the dawn and the birds. So many weird and haunting calls.

Today we trekked further up the river. As we would be crossing the river almost constantly I wore my flip flops. But these really started to cut my feet so I switched to my boots, knowing that eventually they would dry out.

It was hard going. Jumping from rock to rock, then wading through the waist deep river.

Sometines the river was in a rock cut canyon, sometimes hust at the base of a deep jungle clad valley.

Saw Puma tracks in the wet sand at one site, but really saw very little in terms of wildlife, with the exception of many fish and kingfishers taking advantage of their quantity. Most mammals here are nocturnal, and those that arent are hidden deep in the greenery. I did get a glimpse of a black spider monkey though.

That evening after dark the guide left some cooked vegetables near the camp. Later with our torches we saw eyes reflecting back. Medium sized mammals call Pachas had caught the smell of the vegetables and came out of the forrest to investigate.

Welcome to the jungle

I took the two hour bus trip from Santa Cruz to the small town of Buena Vista (sharing the bus with all sorts of agricultural produce). Arriving in the pleasant colonaded main square I sorted out my trip into the Amboro national park, a three day, two night camping and trekking adventure, which would begin the following morning.

Transport into the wilds was by 4WD accross rivers and steams.

Amboro national park is special because here amazon meets Andes foothills and the dry Chaco plain, all having distinct ecosystems. The area I went to was one of the high headwaters of the Amazon and covered in virgin rain forest.

From the jeep we trekked 4 hours into the jungle, following, and very often, walking in a broad river. As we walked deeper in the rivers course was very often in a deep canyon with hig red sandstone cliffs either side.

Amboro is famous for it's butterflies with more types being recorded here than in any other location. I think that may go for all insect types, particularly the biting ones, for even with my jungle strength insect repellent, they just seem to regard that as a personal inconvience.

Camp was set up under a sandstone overhang on a sandy river beach. Went to sleep listening to the sounds of the jungle.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

The Death Train

From Bonito I travelled back to Campo Grande and said adios the the Aussies, who were headed on a mammoth 48 hour bus journey to the north eastern coastal city of Salvador. I then bussed to the Brasilian Bolivian border on the Rio Paraquay and crossed over.

Adeus Brasil, hola Bolivia.

I was very lucky as I was able to buy a ticket for the overnight train to Santa Cruz within an hour of its departure (guide book said this is tough to achieve!).

The train is known as the Death Train, and I can confirm it as the most uncomfortable train ride I have ever done. It runs on narrow gauge tracks, never acheives more that 40 to 50 mph, and bumps, rocks and jolts its passengers constantly. How I slept through this constant battering I do not know!

Santa Cruz is Bolivia's largest city, but still seems a pretty chilled out place. The hostel I stayed in has two pet toucans, who love to accept fruit from your breakfast plate. Did some shopping (new jeans to replace the ones that ripped and died) plus a good haircut.

Off now to Amboro national park. Couldnt get to Noel Kempff national park as planned as the heavy rains earlier this years have knocked out the road that accesses this remote area.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Fresh water snorkeling

From the Pantanal, myself, Jill, Amy, Josh ans Simon bussed our way over to the sleepy town of Bonito. On the way there we spotted a giant anteater in a field. Unfortunately it ran off pretty quickly once we were our pointing camera lenses in its direction. (But Josh managed to get this one!)

Bonito considers itself the ecotourism capital of Brasil. It seems that each cattle ranch is offering some for of tour. What brings us gringo tourists (and Brazilians alike) to this remote corner of Mato Grosso Do Sul is the exceptionally clear river waters that bubble up from the limestone rocks.

We spent the first day at the nearby (a 4 mile walk) municiple river attraction. The river was sparklingly clear and full of fish. Here macaws were flying around. A couple even trying to vandalise a shower head.

Top of the ecotours on offer here is the Rio Da Prata (the silver river). This tap water clear river runs through lush green tropical forest and teems with many species of fish, large and small.

Donning wet suits, mask and snorkel we slipped into the river for a leisurely float. I hired an underwater camera and enjoyed the new experience of trying to take photos whilst bobbing up and down in water, quite tricky.

I had only ever snorkeled before in the sea, so doing this is fresh water as clean and clear as you can imagine, was quite wonderful. We were shown "water volcanoes", areas where water bubbles up from the ground within the bed of the river, causing the silt to swirl like smoke. Some parts of the river were shallow, here we dad to be careful not to disturb the bottom, other deep, where fallen tree logs gave santuary to the colourful fish that live there.

It was a very good and different experience. Glad I did it. Here are the photos.

Tour agency fouls up totally

My unextected day in the Pantanal was a real lucky one. Another early morning trek through the wetlands saw our guide suddenly getting very excited indeed. He then started this high pitched wailing! Giant otters were about.

We chased after him to see these very very rare mammals swimming towards us to check out the calls our guide was making. Apparently there are only 1000 of these wonderful animals left scattered throughout the Amazon, Pantanal and Iguazu regions. What an honour to see these lovely mammals close up.

Today was the day when the agency really did foul up completly. The Aussies were confused as to when they should be leaving. They thought initially it was today, Tuesday, however the guide thought it was Wednesday. He checked their receipt and confirmed it was Wednesday. So in the afternoon, after waiting again on new arrivals that didnt show up at 2.00pm as reported (and again meaning I had no transport out to connect to the Bonito bus)they went boating with the guide. I stayed behind to take the new arrivals, once they arrived, on my blue hyacinthe macaw trek.

The new arrivals were 5 people, three Dutch and two British. Their transport was supposed to take the Australians out (the agency had still forgotten about me!!). They too wanted to go to Bonito and so at this hour was impossible. There then began the most abusive telephone conversations (via satellite phone from the farm opposite)between the Aussies and the Green Track agency management in Campo Grande. The agency thought the Aussie were pulling a fast one and trying to stay longer, but of course it was their guide who confirmed their departure was for the next day. They threatenned the police, threatenned to throw them off the property. I took the phone to remind them I was still there and in need of transport out. They just said I had benefitted from the extra days!! No apology!

Anyway the next morning we left and paid up the fee the agency demand to cover their own mistake. Two days later I dsiscovered a post on the Lonely Planet travellers forum placed by the agency disguised as a traveller there with us complaining of the scamming Australians. I soon had this removed by the agency.

I have never heard such abuse from a supplier to a customner!!

The Pantanal was howeverr wonderful, and delivered far more than I could ever have hoped. It is a very speciial area.

Forgotten with bonus

On Monday morning we again woke early to head out into the wilds. Again we were very lucky to see so much wildlife. Jill shouted out Anaconda! having seen something long with stripes moving through a bush. It turned out to be another cute tree climbing tamandua.

We also saw high up in the trees a screech owl staring wisely down upon us. Later a medium sized spider was spotted and I let it crawl over my arm.

Monday was to be my last day in the Pantanal. My four night tour would be over so I could catch the bus to my next destination Bonito. My transport out from the farm was supposed to arrive at 2.00pm, but that hour passed and no transport arrived. Even if it did arrive later I would have missed the only bus. The agency had forgotten me.

Our guide was apologetic and said he would make sure transport arrived the next day.

So that afternoon I again headed out on horses. On the way back I was able to tick another off the list, an armadillo, one of the strangest mammals on the planet with scaly armour plating.

Here are a few photos Jill ans Simon shot:

Friday, 15 June 2007

Rare birds but no guide!

Myself and the two Americans enjoyed a very early morning trek. In the morning light I spotted two Jabiru storks at on and island in the middle of a lily packed lake. The jabiru stork is huge, when it takes off it needs quite a long runway. This stork is the symbol of the Pantanal.

We heard that more folk were headed to join us at the farm. We expected them at 2.00pm, at which time our guide left!! The newcomers did not arrive until after dark, they came with a new guide, but it did mean myself and the two from San Francisco had to fend for ourselves that afternoon. A bit poor when you have paid for the guide during your stay.

We decided to go for a walk to a place the Americans had been before prior to my arrival. We were very lucky. Previously we had only seen the very rare blue hyacinthe macaws flying over the farm. On our walk we got to see them up real close. What a noisy bunch they were! We also saw more howler monkeys, coatis, woodpeckers and a rather handsome toucan.

The new arrivals were 4 Aussies. It turned out they were never going to arrive at 2.00, so it was the agencys fault we were guideless. This was our first clue that this agency, Green Track, was not well managed!

The next day the Americans left and I spent the rest of my time with the 4 Aussies, who were great fun and very into the wildlife.