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Turning 30 South American Style With the dreaded 30th birthday looming, I ran away to South America to celebrate the landmark birthday in style.

Wet, wet wet in The Pantanal

BRAZIL | Monday, 7 April 2008 | Views [996]

Paraguay was hard to leave, literally. On the way out we got stuck in a road block protest for a few hours, missed the immigration opening hours, accidentally crossed into Brazil, crossed back and spent hours running around looking around for immigration. Unfortunately people here don´t like to admit they don´t know where something is so if you ask for directions they will make them up. This resulted in us running around the border for hours. Got into Brazil OK though, eventually. We thought we were being interrogated by one customs official, turns out he just wanted to make sure we knew that Brazil was really good at football and commiserate on England´s declining fortunes in the world field which is fair enough.
But the main reason for our trip into Brazil was of course to see the Pantanal, a big wetland tropical swamp. 
The clue here is in the title - tropical swamp. Mosquitoes breed in standing water in hot weather. We chose to camp and were eaten alive. The little critters bit through our clothing and DEET heavy insect repellent too, there was no escape.  
That aside it was rather nice, if a little short on wildlife which was the point of going there in the first place. We spent the whole three days with dirty, wet feet as every activity involved wading knee deep through muddy swamp water at one point or another.
We were a bit worried when we first arrived as the camp was more of a rustic hut with no screened area to sit in the evening when the mossies came out to play. And we saw a crocodile swimming in the river at the front of the camp within seconds of arriving. We were invited to jump right in but polite declined - that day at least. We slept in a big dorm room made up of swinging hammocks, surprisingly comfortable after a beer or two. We felt like lemons on the first night as we caught the tail end of the last group, and were being eaten alive by the mossies.
But by the second day we were kings of the camp, lounging and laughing with a Portuguese malaria expert called Sophia and a comedy double act of Brahm and Phil, the Dutch and Irish guys who arrived together. They were ace. On out nature trail, Sandro, our lovely guide, would plea for quiet, walk slowly and discreetly point out some monkeys we were to observe and try not to scare. Every time, right on cue, Phil would stand on a twig and snap it really loudly or start humming and Brahm would run up full of enthusiasm shouting "Whoooaaa, Monkeys. Are these the ones that Sh1t on your head?" At which point the monkeys would run off. It was really good fun and we did get to see some big furry animals.
A huge storm broke on our second day there, letting loose some massive thunder cracks and lightening forks that even made our guide jump from his skin. The rain didn´t cease for two days and so our boat trip was a bit of a damp squib as we could barely see through the rain. But we soon warmed up in the river water as we swam and floated on rubber tyres, letting the current take us all the way back to the camp. We were assured that the crocodiles and piranhas wouldn´t eat us but when a couple of the girls felt something nibble their bums I wanted out!
The next day it was our turn to bite as we went fishing for Piranhas. I caught one almost immediately and pulled it flapping madly into the boat. Once I had it there I panicked, imaging the thing breaking free of the line and eating me nibble by vicious nibble James Bond style. And to be fair it did have massive teeth. But it was only a baby so it went back over into the water. Phil and Brahm proved to be expert fishers though, managing to pull a couple over board that were ripe for eating. Not much meat on them though.
From one adventure then to another as we headed from Brazil over the border to Bolivia for a ride on the death train. Aparently it is so called because it derails so often, killing many on board. Another possible reason is that many people who built it were killed during construction. Either way, it was a pleasent enough little ride. We went Pullman class and were very relieved we did after looking in at the wooden planks that were the seats in first. Not much fun after a twenty hour journey on rickety tracks I´m willing to bet.

Tags: brasil, brazil, cayman, crocodile, football, hammock, mosquito, piranhas, swamp, the pantanal

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