Cowboys, Caipirinhas and Condensed Milk

Brazilians, it seems,  have a very sweet tooth. Take for example the national cocktail, the Caipirinha, made with cachaça, sugar and lime – a heady, lethal mix of the very sweet with just the right amount of sour. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, it would appear that the best Caipirinhas for some miles around are located in a bar right next door to the lodge where I am staying. What are the chances of that?

On the side of the Transpantaneira Park Road is the Baras Bar, which is where we ended up for sundowners yesterday evening after a particularly eventful late afternoon safari involving Edson, horses and a giant anteater. More on that later.

I can confirm that the Caipirinhas were indeed fantastic and it was whilst on our second round of drinks that the only other occupant of the bar strolled over to share with us his photos of a jaguar spotted a few hours earlier just kilometres up the road.  Sadly I will not get to see this spectacular creature before I leave tomorrow morning, as I am reliably informed that it is particularly difficult to encounter them in this region until August or September, when all of the undergrowth has died down. As disappointed as I am by this, I can honestly say that my amazing wildlife experiences over the past few days have more than made up for this. Each foot or jeep safari has introduced me to such a huge variety of creatures and during each of these excursions my trusty guide Edson has done a fabulous job of spotting even the most camouflaged iguanas, armadillos and coati.

Yesterday afternoon, however, as he led us through the wetlands on a late afternoon horse back safari, he came into his own. The light was fading and we hadn’t really seen anything of note when suddenly Edson pointed ahead to something in the undergrowth; a large ball of fur, which turned out to be a giant anteater. The startled animal looked up, saw us approaching and headed off across the ground at breakneck speed. Quick as a flash Edson spurred on his horse and set off, cowboy style, to give chase.  He was magnificent and moments later he appeared from behind the trees, corralling the anteater in front of my stationary horse to provide a fleeting yet priceless photo opportunity. What a guy!

Edson and the giant anteater

Dinner last night was a quiet affair as most of the guests had departed during the day – the end of a local holiday weekend – giving us the chance to reflect on the afternoons excitement over yet another wonderful evening meal. Of particular note was the dessert. Those who know me well will confirm that I don’t really do desserts, yet I found myself reaching for a second helping of the passion fruit mousse. Possibly a bit of a misnomer, the ‘mousse’ was a mix of condensed milk, sugar and local passion fruit – teeth achingly sweet and yet completely delicious – the sour hit of the fresh passion fruit brilliantly countering the sickliness of the cream. It seems that condensed milk features in many desserts here and I for one am all in favour if it. Whisked back to my childhood, it reminds me of special teatime treats and birthday parties and I’m already looking forward to tonights version of a similar offering, lime mousse. Before that though there’s my last afternoon walk with Edson. We’re heading to a local vantage point to watch the birds settle into the trees for the evening. It should be quiet and uneventful but in the Pantanal with Edson as your guide you just never know!



I’m turning into a bit of a twitcher

I never thought I’d say this but I am turning into an avid bird watcher. True, when I booked this trip to the Pantanal, I was promised jaguars, cougars, and all kinds of mammals but, as if often my luck, it would appear that I am not quite at the right place at the right time for any of these. This however, is not really worrying me as I am completely blown away by the sheer number and incredible variety of the birds here. From the minute we hit the Transpantaneira road – a dirt track that cuts through the wetlands and runs for miles through the region – there were birds everywhere. Egrets, storks, cormorants and herons wading through the water, kingfishers on every telegraph wire, all kinds of birds of prey sat on random posts. I have really never seen anything quite like it before.

American Woodstork, Bare Faced Ibis, & Striated Heron

An evenings turn around the grounds of the lodge introduced me to Blue Fronted Parrots, Tiger Herons, Yellow Billed Cardinals,  Greater Rheas and White Woodpeckers.

Blue Fronted Parrot
Great  Rhea

But the highlight of the day for me was the incredible sunset spectacle of hundreds of Cormorants, Ibis and Egrets arriving at one particular tree in order to spend the night. Bathed in the reddest of lights, the tree literally ‘boiled’ with these birds and the pre-bedtime sound that they made was completely deafening. And then, just as suddenly as the sun dropped, they stopped their screeching and all was calm. What a peaceful end to a very long day.

Amazonian Kingfisher

Coming tomorrow….it’s not all about the birds, embarrassing plumbing, and why safaris are a great option for the solo female traveller.


Taking Havaianas to Brazil

I’m not very good at travelling light. Normally it’s the shoe dilemma that stumps me. But when I found myself packing Havaianas to take with me to Brazil, it was time to have a word!

In my defence this is a longer trip that usual. Two months that will start with a week or so of pure vacation and then onto six weeks of  volunteering to mentor young entrepreneurs who are starting up social enterprises ahead of the 2016 Olympic games. I’ve never done anything like this before and I am both excited and nervous in equal measures.

Don’t rush through your 50s. Take your time, enjoy. They’ll be over soon enough.

Words of advice from my Uncle Ronnie on my 50th birthday.   I wish I’d acted on them sooner. But here I am, on the wrong side of 55, and a testament to the perils of working alone from my kitchen table for far too long.  Sitting for much of the past three years has meant that my behind has now spread to fit the shape of my dining room chair, my waist has expanded to the point where my Pilates teacher has something substantial to hang onto as she corrects my postures, and my shoulders are permanently tensed up around my ears. It’s time for a change. Time to shake things up. Time to get moving.

Notice period complete, I am excited to start this new phase of my life. Why Rio, you may ask? Quite honestly, when I think of Rio I think of fun  – samba, smiling faces, carnival – and I feel as though I am ready for some of that.  Add to that the challenges of volunteering and travelling with a purpose and it feels like a pretty great way for a solo traveller to become immersed in a whole new culture and way of life.

I’ll let you know how it all turns out – warts and all. I’ll be sharing my experiences, tips, tricks and anecdotes along the way. If my camera doesn’t get stolen in the first week  (yes, I’ve been warned by many people about staying safe and avoiding being mugged) I will also be sharing photos of my travels.

I’d love to read your comments and thoughts on my posts and any tips that you may have on getting the best out of Brazil. For now, it’s back to my packing. I think I can probably remove that sixth pair of jeans. After all, I’m pretty sure they have shops in Rio.