Chance encounters in the Pantanal

Chance encounters in the Pantanal

Gruta do Lago Azul Natural

Gruta do Lago Azul Natural

And so there I was, for the second time within a week, on the back of a horse. ‘Princeza’ is owned by Fazenda Aguapé in the southern part of the Pantanal, where we are staying a few days. The advantage of horseback riding is that you become a lot less muddy than if you were walking yourself, because the poor animals had to plough through water quite a few times. And they are fairly quiet. Besides that, there are a number of disadvantages: the ride is bumpy, it makes your groin hurt, brakes, acceleration and steering are immensely unreliable, and as a passenger you are a sitting duck for all of the flying vermin around you. I had a lot of time to think about it during our ride, and I concluded that an electric four-wheel drive would have all of the advantages of a horse and none of the disadvantages. I see a business opportunity here! By the way: gorgeous landscape here, great to ride around a proper cattle farm: opening gates, being greeted by herds of cows (who walk towards you curiously and are subsequently frightened by their own guts, after which they turn around again at about 3m distance from you).

Between our visits to the north and south of the Pantanal, we stayed a few days in Bonito, the center for ecotourism in Brazil. We had a great hotel with a pool, but above all, a very friendly owner: an Australian with a Brazilian wife. They lived apart half the time for several years, because he had to pay off debts in Australia, but now they had finally managed to buy this hotel together. Truly one of those ventures you wish will become successful…

Cachoeira boca da onça

Cachoeira boca da onça

Even though Bonito is very touristy, there are hardly any English-speaking guides. Not at the Gruta do Lago Azul, a beautiful cave with beautiful blue water 60 meters underground, not in the ‘natural aquarium’ where you can snorkel in a crystal-clear river, and not at the waterfall park Boca da Onca. It made the chance encounters we had there all the more fun: at the Aquario Natural we met a Flemish-speaking professional soccer player who had worked in Belgium for four years and played for Fortuna Sittard for six months. And at Boca da Onca we met the Australian Shane and his Brazilian girlfriend. Shane is a professional photographer (who has a hard time making enough money doing that in Brazil) who uses the same model Fuji camera Erwin uses, so that created a bond.

The last chance encounter was in the south of the Pantanal again. In Pousada Aguapé we met the Canadian Lou-Anne. She had arranged for an English-speaking guide, Sergio, who turned out to have lived in the Netherlands with his (now ex) wife for years, so he spoke fluent Dutch. All very coincidental and all very nice; these types of encounters are the things you remember.

Toucans at Pousada Aguapé

Toucans at Pousada Aguapé

By now we have arrived in Rio, in a fancy suburb in the south called Barra da Tijuca. It took us over two hours to drive the 30 km from the airport to our hotel during a very chaotic evening rush hour, that Erwin navigated admirably. After the car rental company gave us an upgrade (we are now driving a large Chevrolet Kobalt), the hotel offered us a room upgrade. We now have a view of the wide Barra beach and the blue ocean behind it. But what makes me truly happy is the fact that the shower in our room offers a generous stream of hot water, and I am even happier about the fact in the morning that we don’t need to slither across a carpet of dead flying ants to reach the front door. I know. I did not realize that this is a thing until I opened a door and a cloud of dead wings blew up against my legs. But if I learned one thing last week it is this: the price you pay for watching lots of cute and pretty animals is a crap load of bugs. To paraphrase Johan Cruyff: That’s the disadvantage to this advantage…

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