Brazil: The Testament (O Pantanal)
The Testament, by John Grisham, was a book that not only captivated me in plot, as all J.G. books do, but also in setting. For those who haven’t read it, or have filed it away, it is set in western Brazil, in the soggy Pantanal. I had wanted to explore the Pantanal ever since having read the book and it just happened to be the perfect pitstop in my slightly insane cross-continent journey. However, the Pantanal I had envisioned and the Pantanal I got were different. Everyone I have talked to who has recently toured the Pantanal has said the same thing: it’s awesome and full of wildlife but it’s blazing hot and the mosquitos could kill you. Having been mentally prepared for that, I was shocked to arrive at the lodge to pouring rain and a humid and cold wind. I never thought I’d be wearing my wool sweater, hat, scarf, and gloves in the Pantanal (or anywhere in Brazil for that matter), but sure enough….
The Pantanal is the wetlands region in western Brazil and eastern Bolivia and is one of the world’s greatest wildlife refuges. It is most known by avid bird watchers because there are over 700 species in this ecosystem. There are also several other kinds of exotic (to us anyway) wildlife – and I got to see lots of them, despite the cold weather! Let’s start with frogs: what do you do when you are peeing, in the comforts of your room, and a frog jumps up from inside the toilet and bumps you in the bum?? Well let me tell you – you squeal as you jump off the toilet midstream and yell “what the f@#*?” I kid you not. It was just a little froggie, but still…I hate frogs. And that was my welcome to the Pantanal. Froggie #1 had friends in the shower too. Maybe I’m getting prissy in my old age, but I was not loving it. When the lights went off at night, my mind starting running wild thinking of all the other things that could come up through the plumbing….I didn’t get much sleep in the Pantanal. Moving on to the more interesting and exotic…on my second day we went on an all-day “safari,” by far my favorite of our planned excursions. Basically, “safari”just meant driving up and down the main road with our guide pointing out the different mammals and birds along the way. I was pretty impressed with how much we saw just from the road. The Pantanal is known for its “giant” species: storks, catybaras, anteaters, otters, and yellow anaconda. We saw all of them that day, except the snake. It was cold and rainy and anacondas like to sunbathe, so they weren’t out that day. We also saw tons of birds, alligators and monkeys. The second day we went on a boat trip to spot several more of the bird species. It really is amazing how many there were, of every color and size. In some trees we could see 7-8 species and many of the bushes had branches just sagging from the weight of all the birds.
I was disappointed when I got stuck in Santa Cruz for a few days because I thought it was going to cut too much into my Pantanal experience, but in the end, 2 days was plenty. I think I was just too tired and in need of a break to fully enjoy it, but am still glad that I made the pitstop. From here it was a few hours on to Campo Grande to catch a flight. That’s right…I folded. Couldn’t take another moment of bus riding.