After our extended stint in Bonito we once again headed to the Pantanal, only this time in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. I missed out on driving the Transpantaneira road in the north and didn’t want the same to happen with the Estrada Parque in the southern Pantanal. For this reason we headed straight for Corumba, on the Bolivian border, stayed for one night (in a crap hotel – City Hotel) and rented a matchbox sized car for the weekend. The Estrada Parque goes for 120km starting just outside of Corumba and finishing at Buraco das Pirhanas and is essentially a dirt road providing access to the farms and lodges on its path.
We left Corumba at 9am and had to have a local kid on a motor bike show us the entry way to the road as it was not well marked. The road was very similar to the Transpantaneira with dirt and bridges, 72 rickety wooden bridges to be exact. We had rented the smallest car available and we were very concerned whether it could even make the 120 kilometer drive, especially if it rained and the road turned to the consistency of crap. Not long into the drive we saw capybaras, whole families of them, crossing the road in front of the car. Then what I had been hoping for, a yellow anaconda attempting to cross the road. It was only a mere 7-8 feet long but it was still a wonderful sight to see – it would have been far better if it had been 24 feet long with a full size capybara in its gut, but oh well!
The road was nowhere near as bad as we had expected and after crossing the Rio Paraguai by ferry we soon made it to where we had planned on staying for the night, Passo do Lontra. This was a well advertised lodge with apartments and chalets set on stilts alongside Rio Miranda. We had not done much research and soon found out that they were outside of what we wanted to pay and certainly not value for money! By this point we were at km 112, already over the 100km rental allowance for the day. We had passed a few other pousadas on the drive in so we decided to give those a try instead. Andrea also agreed to a single night of camping to save a few bucks, but fortunately we arrived at Pousada Santa Clara and after negotiating their 3 km driveway we found a fairly busy location with a very friendly vibe. This was just what we needed and we reserved a private room for the night with all meals included. We liked it so much we started discussing staying an extra night and driving back to Corumba early Monday morning to return the car and find WiFi for Andrea to start work.
We later found out the lodge had fairly good WiFi, so Andrea and I discussed staying here through the following Friday so we didn’t have to waste our time in Corumba prior to us crossing into Bolivia. It was a done deal and we managed to get a dorm room all to ourselves, including meals and the option to pay for horseback riding, boating, etc.. as and when we wanted to do them. The only thing now was returning the rental car for 8.45 on Monday – I had planned on leaving at 5.45am and driving back along the Estrada Parque to hopefully see a jaguar or bigger anaconda, then returning to the lodge by bus and private transportation. The weather on Saturday and Sunday had other plans for me and with the clouds opening to deliver a couple of really good downpours it made the drive in any direction a mud-bath. We had already had our little mule stuck at the side of the road in the mud once and luckily one of the few cars that passed stopped to help us out.
It had only recently stopped raining as my alarm tried to wake me giving me a few minutes to get up and risk getting stuck in the mud. There was no way I could head back in the direction we came along the extremely wet and muddy road for 95 kilometers to Corumba, so I took the shorter 25 kilometer option to Buraco das Pirhanas, a military checkpoint, which frustratingly added many more kilometers to the drive, but did provide me with a fighting chance of getting the car out at all. The entire 25 kilometers was torture with the car sliding from side to side and dragging it’s underbody through potholes and deeply rutted tire tracks. It was a great experience and one that would have been a hell of a lot of fun in my old Jeep Wrangler! I was so glad Andrea had to work because she would have been complaining about my driving the entire trip in the mud!!
The 6 nights we spent at Santa Clara got progressively worse weather wise, with no signs of sun and a cold chill for our last couple of days. Fortunately this didn’t affect the Internet signal coming from Miranda ensuring Andrea had mostly trouble-free work. You wouldn’t believe how stressed she gets when the Internet goes down! I managed to get out every day whilst she was working in my quest to see a big cat, with the closest being paw prints. The hyacinth macaws were the highlight, and getting to see them eating palm nuts, frolicking in the trees, and hollowing out a tree for nesting was something I didn’t expect to see. You didn’t have to go far as there was plenty of activity at the lodge with a family of white-collared peccaries, a mother and three of her offspring, many parakeets, a red & green macaw, and trees full of toco toucans and other exotic birds. Visit our Brazil Wildlife album for more photo’s. Very cool.
Our final cold morning was for me the best day for wildlife viewing, when I got to see my usual pair of hyacinth macaws, followed by a family of around ten peccaries, then a very brave mother with baby marsh deer who insisted on trying to figure out what I was by heading closer and closer, all the while smelling and twisting her head from side to side. Finally a family of black howler monkeys let me know they were right above my head. This was a great end to our second trip into the Pantanal, and one that only makes me want to come back again when the waters have all subsided and the scenery is totally different.
June 15th – June 21st 2013