It takes a long time to get to the Pantanal from London. An overnight flight to Sao Paulo, a lengthy 5 hour layover in the domestic terminal which boasts a Subway and not much else, a further 2 hour flight to Cuiaba and then an onward 2 hour drive up the Transpantaniera Park Road; most of which is nothing more than a dirt road stretching out into the distance. You have to really want to get there but boy is it worth the trouble. My destination was the Araras Eco Lodge and it would be my home for the next 4 nights.
The drive itself was quite eventful. My driver spoke no English and my Portuguese runs out after por favor and obrigada (note to self, I really need to learn how to order beer and wine at the earliest opportunity) but we muddled along famously and as soon as we hit the dirt road he was pointing out the jaw dropping array of birds foraging for food in the wetlands that lined the side of the road. Hundreds and hundreds of them, every species imaginable, on every post, tree top and telegraph wire. I had seen nothing like it.
This was just the beginning of what was to become a most memorable adventure. As we arrived at the lodge I was greeted by the friendly, smiling staff and from that point onwards nothing was too much trouble. My room was comfortable and spotlessly clean with every all amenities, all provided whilst upholding their strong ecological principles. At dinner that evening I was introduced to Edson, who would be guide throughout my stay. His smile was infectious and his knowledge quite incredible and he made every day interesting and enjoyable.
Life at the lodge settled into a calm, relaxed rhythm. Breakfast around 6 am – the freshly baked cheese bread incentive enough to jump out of bed early – and then a day filled with a mixture of foot, canoe, horse or jeep safaris and down time to read, chat to the other guests, laze by the pool or nap. A spectacular lunch and dinner buffet, offering a vast array of local, lovingly prepared dishes, made sure that no one ever went hungry. Oh, and just in case that wasn’t enough, freshly baked cakes were served during afternoon tea at 3!
Arars Eco Lodge is situated in its own vast grounds, which means that you really don’t need to stray far at all to see caiman, toucans, capybara, parrots, blue macaws, woodpeckers, herons, ibis, storks, vultures, lapwings, kingfishers, egrets, plus many, many other species – they are absolutely everywhere – and during the safaris monkeys, armadillos, anteater (giant and small), marsh deer, emus, coati, were common place. The Jaguars, for which the Pantanal is particularly famous, are only really visible during July, August and September, the dry season, when the wetlands dry up completely and the vegetation dies away; something to bear in mind if you are planning a trip there and particularly want to see them.
For me, it’s onwards to Rio and a completely difference experience. I’ll miss the sunset over the river and the birds flying in for the night to sleep; the peace and quiet. Oh and I’ll also actually miss those bloody chaco chachalacas, screeching at 5 am in the morning and making sure that I was never, ever late for the freshly baked cheese bread.