Brazilian Pantanal Region

On the Brazilian side of the border, Corumba was the first town we hit only four miles from the frontera. Although we were barely into Brazil, everything was different; language, architecture, people, temperature. We had no intentions of staying long in Corumba, just long enough to get groceries and cash. Little did we know, this would prove difficult.

Our first errand took us to an ATM. Then another. Then another. Then five more. None of them worked and we had visited every ATM in Corumba. Sometimes ATMs don’t like our cards so we went to a grocery store to give it a try. To prevent making a scene, we only picked up a few essentials for dinner and breakfast, minimizing the groceries that would have to be returned to their spot if the cards wouldn’t work. Sure enough, the cards didn’t work here either. We figured something was blocking our cards and we would have to call our card companies in the US. Simple, right?

To call the US, we needed a SIM card from a Brazilian phone company which is easy to find. The only problem is that we didn’t have any Brazilian currency, Reals. Luckily, we were only a few miles from the border where there were money exchangers on the Bolivian side so we returned to Bolivia, exchanged some money and walked back. We found a convenience store selling SIM chips and went about setting up the phone. The only problem with setting up the phone is that all of the instructions are in Portuguese. We felt defeated and went to bed in temperatures we hadn’t seen since the coastal regions of Colombia.

In the morning, we made our way to a phone store to get help setting up the phone. The lady helping us went through a few steps on the phone and said we would need to wait for an hour or so before it would be ready to call. We waited and waited and the phone still didn’t work. Frustrated, we returned to the phone store to find that they were only open in the morning and had already closed for the weekend. We found a bakery with cheap food and good wifi to sulk as we felt all of our options were exhausted. After a bit of research on the internet, we found a way to use Skype to make international calls and were able to reach our card companies with no trouble at all. Both cards had been flagged and temporarily restricted for various reasons, although, the 25 withdrawal attempts probably had something to do with it. Having spent another full day dealing with the issue, we returned to our free camp spot for the night relieved to have cash to buy beer. Well, and food, of course!

The following morning, we awoke to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary. A year ago, neither of us could have told anybody where we would be to begin celebrating our anniversary, but I’m sure neither of us would have guessed a parking lot in Brazil. Oh well! We returned to our favorite bakery for some breakfast sandwiches and coffee before leaving Corumba for good. Next stop, Balneario Ermeca!

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In Latin America, you can be sure to bet that any sort of public beach, swimming pool, national park, etc. will be very busy every Sunday. Sunday is the day where the entire family gets together and grills, swims and often drink too much. Balnearios vary quite a bit but Balenario Ermeca is similar to a privately owned park that allows access for a day use fee. A large pool is the main attraction but barbeque grills are strategically placed throughout and, being Sunday, the place was packed. We enjoyed the sun, cooled off in the pool and enjoyed speculating what was going through everybody’s head when the saw two white people at a very non-touristy place. In the afternoon, a lady who lived at the balneario showed us how to make dreamcatchers. We wrapped up the day by grilling steaks and squash. It was an unconventional, but enjoyable and memorable wedding anniversary for sure!

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We left the balneario in the morning and began driving to the Pantanal. The Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland in the world that is home to a wide variety of wildlife. We made our way into the Pantanal along a rough, gravel road in the hopes of spotting some of these creatures. Along the way, toucans and parrots flew by sporadically. We were awed by how stealth the toucans look in flight despite having an enormous beak. Beneath nearly every bridge we crossed, caimans who were sunning themselves in the water below. We even spotted a few capybaras which look like a tiny hippo body with the face of a beaver. Later, we found out they are actually the world’s largest rodent. Other species living in the Pantanal include jaguars, anteaters, armadillos, piranhas and thousands and thousands of birds. This is the only photo we snagged of wildlife as every species other than caimans are quick little buggers:

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Even though it was really hot, it was technically spring, so tons of trees were flowering:

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Miranda is a small city located on the southern edge of the Pantanal and is a launching point for tours of the Pantanal. We popped into a tour company to see what types of tours are offered and were smacked in the face with the sticker shock of base prices of $300 per person excluding transportation, lodging and meals! Since the tours would take us where we had already been in the Pantanal, we decided to pass and headed down the road to another “adventure town” called Bonito.

In Bonito, we chose one of the dozens of tour operators for information about the area. Two large lakes similar to the cenotes of the Yucatan allow tourists to dive or snorkel. Once again, the sticker shock blew us away. An hour of snorkeling would cost nearly $300 or two hours of diving at about $500. Tour prices in Costa Rica were impressively expensive, but not even close to this. We opted to explore the town by foot and considered our view from the truck sufficient.

We will talk about one more large expense in Brazil and then I’ll quit. I promise! Fuel prices in Brazil are 3.29 Reals/liter which converts to over $4USD/gallon. Aside from the $5USD/gal prices in Belize, Brazil’s fuel prices are the highest we have seen. For such a large country, this is going to hurt pretty bad each time we fill up. Interestingly, the majority of camp spots on iOverlander are just truck stops that don’t charge for overnight parking. Apparently other overlanders have felt the pain of the costs of fuel in Brazil and are offsetting the cost by free camping at truck stops. Many of the truck stops are similar to what would be found in the US, but many are very nice and have sitting areas, plenty of trees for shade, restaurants, wifi, showers, etc. As non-sexy as this sounds, we have actually enjoyed the truck stops quite a bit. Here I was starting to work on my tan for Rio:

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Laughlin decided she would wait to work on her tan when we returned to the beach!

From Bonito, we headed northeast towards the city of Campo Grande. The landscape changed drastically once we left the Pantanal. Treed pastures full of cows gradually changed to rolling plains with fields as far as the eye could see. It reminded us of the rolling hills of South Dakota except instead of pheasants catching our eyes, it was ostriches and toucans.

Campo Grande is a very large, very modern city. Although we didn’t do any tourist activities in the city, we did take advantage of its services by doing laundry, grocery shopping and catching up on the internet.

The region north of Campo Grande is known for its ostrich farms. We found a place selling ostrich eggs to eat and had to give it a try. The smallest egg was the one we ended up with and we figured it was about the equivalent of a dozen chicken eggs. The biggest egg for sale was quite a bit larger, perhaps double the size of ours. Cooking an egg of this size isn’t quite as easy as cooking a chicken egg. Hard boiling the egg takes 40 minutes and requires being rotated every ten minutes or so. We were told not to fry the egg as it would be impossible to turn. Since we already had egg salad in our Tupperware, we opted to whisk it and make giant omelettes. Here is a sneak peak of our ostrich egg, but keep an eye out for the next Cooking with Laughlin blog post for more:

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To the west of our ostrich farms, we left the highway ending up on dirt roads for over 100 miles in search of giant anteaters. Anteaters are a common site on the edge of the Pantanal and we set out to try our luck spotting them. In the area surrounding the Pantanal, large termite mounds emerge from the ground. Anteaters use their front legs to pull these mounds apart and feast on the termites. Unfortunately our luck wasn’t with us to see anteaters but we saw plenty of birds along the way. Toucans swooped down very frequently throughout the day. As the sun was setting, we found a tree with about 15 macaws squawking at each other. The photos don’t show their colors well, but the vibrant blue back feathers and bright yellow belly feathers were incredible. They truly are majestic creatures but watching them squawk and chase each other through the trees showed their funny personality.

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This is hard to see, but is one of the many Toucans we saw:

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Finishing our visit in the Pantanal region, we headed north east to Emas National Park. Emas is Portuguese for emus, the smaller cousin of the ostrich. Dozens of emus filled the seemingly endless cotton fields the closer we got to the park. When we arrived at the park entrance, the red dirt and thick brush coupled with midday sun looked swelteringly hot. Surprisingly, a nice breeze and dry air made the 85 degree temperatures comfortable. After dark, we periodically glanced outside as the park hosts indicated it is common to see tapirs and jaguars in search of water.

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In the morning, we took off on bicycles on a loop through the park. We did not see the animals we were searching for but did stumble upon a group of about 15 wild pigs sunning themselves in the middle of the road. They were about as startled as we were and scattered when we stopped to watch.

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Here you can see one of the thousands of bioluminescent termite mounds that are everywhere in eastern Bolivia and all over southern Brazil:

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From Emas National Park in western Brazil, our chosen route will take us across the remaining central region until we emerge on the Atlantic coast. We will pick up there in our next post!

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