Wednesday 11th April
Up at 4am to get the bus to Pedro Juan Caballero on the border. Fell asleep and was very confused when I arrived at 10am to find the ticket office asking for Brazilian Reais! Had to ask at a food stall which country I was in which was very embarrasing, but discovering I was still in Paraguay I went off in search of a ticket. They would not actually sell me one until I had my Paraguay exit and Brazil entry stamps which I soon discovered were at opposite ends of this town with two names - Pedro Juan Caballero in Paraguay and Ponto Pora in Brazil which make up the same place - you just cross the high street and your in another country! Did a rather expensive taxi tour to the immigration offices and got the stamps (and finger printed for leaving Paraguay - very strange) and bought a ticket on the 11.30am to Campo Grande. Met Andrew, the only other tourist in Paraguay it would seem, on the bus. Arrived in Campo Grande at 6pm and ended up in a tourist office for the Pantanal sales tactics but went to the Hostel despite promises of a free room at a hotel. Had a frozen half reheated lasagne for dinner which cost me 3 pounds - brazil is expensive!
Thursday 12th April
Went on the hunt for a Pantanal tour with Andrew. After lots of sales pitches we ended up going with the one offered through the hostel and got a free night there anyway. Met Zoe from Australia who is also going on the trip tomorrow and we all headed off to the shopping mall for some lunch. Got some tops in C&A (they are a really good store over here!) and pigged out on ice-cream. A storm kicked in so decided against a swim in the hostel pool and nipped next door for some dinner and beer (although avoided the lasagne this time!)
Friday 13th April
Met a guy at breakfast who we all quickly realised was going to be an interesting character. He actually told me on the bus to the Pantanal that he had a unique personality and feed back from interviews seems to always be 'won't fit into the team'. This wouldn't have been a problem but for the fact when we arrived at camp they were slightly overcrowded (so much for shopping around for the least dodgy company!) and there was going to be 16 of us swinging into each other in the hammock room. Still the trip in on the truck had been amazing and we had already seen some alligators and birds so after a very quick shower in your choice of unlockable, unlit bathroom (shared with cockroach or toad - quite a choice!) we settled in with a beer and got to know each other (us and the bugs that is!)
Saturday 14th April
Woke by a gong at 6am for breakfast to find we didn't have a tour guide so another guide 'volunteered' to take us on board for the day. So off the big group of us went on the truck for our horse trek. The guides had to catch the horses first so that was quite an amusing and unusual start to the day. The pictures of riding through thigh high waters may look nice but when you factor in bugs, rotting vegetation and the fact that these horses go to the loo whenever they feel like it.....you get the picture. Add to that a horse that doesn't really like the water and would rather eat trees whenever you get on a patch of dry land and you find yourself dragged through branches to the point when you actually come off the horse (I prefer to think of it as an involuntary dismount!) and you see the morning I was having - oh and it wasn't even 9am by this point! Things could only get better though surely....but on the way out we encounter a little family of water buffalo. We were told to stop and the guide tried to cross the water infront of them. When the biggest buffalo turned on the guide and he promptly bolted in the opposite direction we kind of got the feeling this might turn nasty. It was quite funny that we all just sat there though, especially when he told us later they think nothing of attacking a horse and his friend had been seriously injured by a buffalo. We started to find this all quite funny by the end of the trek despite the fact none of us could walk after three hours. We'd seen loads of birds and experienced the Pantanal in all it's boggishness and heat (demonstrated by an exploding cigarette lighter because all the fuel had evaporated). Got back to camp and suddenly felt really itchy, and I mean really itchy. By the time we went out on the river boat trip at 3pm I discovered my legs looked like I had the pox or something. Spent the rest of the boat trip slapping on the calamine lotion (everyone is very prepared here!) and watching the birds at sunset (decided against the swimming with crocs part of the trip due to the itches, well that's my excuse anyway!). In the evening I got quite concerned when a guide asked what on earth had happened to my legs....clearly this isn't a normal reaction to the Pantanal boggy thing? He insisted it was mosquitos and suggested a local drink that would help. The carpirinha happened to be made of the roughest rum, a dash of lime and half a cup of sugar....suprise, suprise after a couple of those I stopped scratching, probably because I couldn't feel anything!
Sunday 15th April
Woke feeling a little nasty at 6am and found I wasn't alone. Think that is the most primitive alcohol anyone has even encountered. Still that didn't stop us heading out for our walking trek. The organisation isn't the best and two of our group got off the truck at the wrong point and found the only trek they were on was the road back to camp! To be honest I wish I had made the same mistake. I was always at the back (lots of scratching going on!) and so I rarely got to see what the guide had spotted before it disappeared. I did managed to see some monkeys though which were really cute and I had to walk in flip flops through bog to get there (getting the feeling I'm not a marshy based person!). Then as if I didn't want to get back to camp enough after 3 hours of walking ankle deep in squelch I hear a buzzing. Can't see anything but walk away before I upset something. But the buzzing comes with me, so I run and it gets louder, then I feel a pain on my arm and there is the ugliest fat black spider looking thing biting me and when I flick it, it doesn't move so I had to really whack it to get it off. Buzzing gets loader and I suddenly realise I must be surrounded by these things....only I couldn't get that lucky, they are actually nesting in my hair! Had a moment of girly histeria running around trying to shake them out and the guide grabs hold of me to pick them individual out of my head. Yuck, really couldn't wait to leave. Retired to the hammock for a well earned siesta after that and then was told we were going out piranha fishing! Zoe did us all proud and caught a fish before we had all sunk a line but unfortunately we hadn't got so far as what to do with one so ran around with it on the line only to find it wasn't a pirahna, mighty big fish though! Andrew caught a nipper which the guide used as bait and that was about that! The guide just laughed at me 'feeding the piranha' and gave up giving me bait (very strange to watch these tiny babies chewing off a chunk of meat from the hook) and went back to camp to find the other tour group caught 20 pirahna...guess who got the better dinner.
Monday 16th April
Braved another trek which was slightly less boggy and we got to see a lot more...anteaters, amardillo, monkeys, deer and a snake (although it was already dead). Made an anklet from palm leaves before we got a truck to Corumba at 3pm. That was a few hours of bone jarring bouncing but we saw lots of alligators and capybara as the sun went down over the Pantanal. Found a really cheap hostel in Corumba and went out to dinner with everyone. Had a fantastic steak on a skewer dinner.