BORDER TO RIO de JAINERO
After we cleared customs in Argentina we crossed the bridge into Brazil. First stop Foz do Iguacu and the new Marco das Três Fronteiras (Three Borders Landmark) by the Brazilians in town considered one of the most beautiful and important tourist attractions of the city of Foz do Iguaçu. In Foz do Iguaçu, three South American nations come together: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The borders are so close that sometimes they do not seem to exist. Foz do Iguacu can be compared to our home city of Cairns characterized by tourism and many nationalities live here. The city is also home of the Itaipu dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant in power generation. 75% of this power is sold to Paraguay only 25% is used in Brazil. It looks after 20% of Brazils total electrical usage and 90% of Paraguay. It is a massive dam at just under 8 Kilometres long and 200 meters high. We are told the iron and steel used was enough to build 380 Eiffel Towers in Paris. After 5 days waiting on the Argentine side for a dry day to visit the falls we are now hoping for one dry day to visit the Brazil side.
The waterfall itself is in Argentina, but the panoramic view of the Falls is best from the Brazilian side. On the Argentinian side of the waterfall we walked right around the falling water, but the Brazilian side offers the best displays, the full splendour of this wonder of the world. The surrounding jungle is full of wild life and birds, I am even told puma’s and jaguar roam in the wild. From here we travel North East towards the Atlantic coast. We travelled past the city of Maringa in the Northwest of the state and Londrina in the North where we noticed and could smell lots of coffee plantations and roasting facilities. After a few days we arrived in Holambra, a city built jointly by Holland and Brazil In 1948, after World War II. Holland was not so rich in those days. Many families, particularly from the countryside, didn’t have bright prospectives in Holland and wanted to emigrate. Options were Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Brazil.
The Brazilian governments were offering to the Dutch immigrants 5,000 hectares of land near the city of Sao Paulo; the immigrants would bring along herds of Dutch cattle, famous for their milk production. But the cattle, brought from the temperate climate of Europe, didn’t adapt well in warm Brazil and was also severely attacked by tropical diseases. The Dutch, then, changed over to chickens and pigs, and various crops. In time, this moved to a product typical from Holland: flowers. Today, no other place in Brazil produces flowers comparable to those of Holambra, be it in variety or in quality. The production is auctioned through the auction house in Holambra, one of the most sophisticated in the world: the output is the largest in Latin America and most of the flowers are exported. Next, we are off to the Atlantic Coast and the town of Ubatuba. Unfortunately for us we were sent back 45km before Ubatuba as police would not allow us to drive the steep mountain track into Ubatuba (this resulted in a 200Km detour). Ubatuba is located right on the tropic of Capricorn (same latitude as Rockhampton in Australia). Ubatuba is a true paradise mostly covered by thick Atlantic rainforest and contains more than 80 beaches distributed along 100 km of coast. This town is devoted to tourism. Brilliant beaches, restaurants and bars makes this the typical holiday destination for not just Brazilians and Argentines but also European and US holiday makers. Our last stop before Rio de Janeiro was Paraty, a real colonial beauty.
This town is built just under sea level. Paraty is a town that has it all: old Portuguese colonial buildings, cobbled streets, historic churches, fabulous beaches, hundreds of islands of the coast and a backdrop of real thick rainforest covering the mountains. The historic town is compact and can be covered on foot; cars are not allowed into the historic city centre. From here we followed the coast road to Rio De Janeiro.
RIO DE JAINERO
We made it to Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazil’s most popular and most visited tourist destinations in South America for many years now. It is the second largest city in Brazil and 3rd largest metropolis in the whole of South America. Rio has a fabulous infrastructure and lots of attractions, beaches and festivals to keep tourists busy. For us the highlights were the cable car ride up Sugarloaf Mountain and the spectacular views over Rio. The other and most famous landmark is the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain, with also spectacular views of Rio. We walked along Ipanema and Copacabana beach and enjoyed live music, while watching beach volley ball and other sports on the beach.
We were lucky to meet Leo, a Dutchman living in Rio for the last 36 years and he told us of a nice carpark on the beach next to the Marina del Gloria on Flamenco Beach right in the middle of the city. We never visited the Maracanã Stadium but the Brazilians told us it is the largest football stadium in the world with over 100000 seats. In 1960 Rio de Janeiro was replaced by Brasilia as the new capital city of Brazil. We did not witness any crime during our stay in Rio de Janeiro however the local newspaper stated: The homicide rate in Rio de Janeiro climbed by 20 percent in the first 5 months of 2017 from the previous year, as violence soared in the Brazilian metropolis amid rising unemployment and sharp cuts in public security budgets as the country struggles through a recession. According to state security statistics 5,033 people were murdered in Rio over the last 11 months up from 4200 for the same period last year. Rio police, who are frequently criticized by human right groups of abuse and excessive use of force, also suffered an increase in deaths (40 year to date). The number of murders and violent crimes have increased so much (58000 per year in Brazil which is around 160 per day) that it now rivals the daily death toll of Syria. Not a good record. Anyway our 4 days in Rio where without incident despite parking our truck in the middle of the city. It was time to leave Rio and start heading north. First stop was Guarapari a popular beach resort town around 450 KM north of Rio, during weekends and during holidays the population doubles. In the morning, it was raining (winter in Brazil) so we decided to drive further north looking for better weather.
RIO de JAINERO to JIJOCA de JERRICOACOARA
We followed the coast driving through rainforest and past many nice beaches; we passed through Vitoria. This city is surrounded by water and has many beaches, mangroves and rock formations. Overnight we bush camped before arriving at Port Seguro. On the beach all bars play music all day and offer activities such as collective dance classes and band performances to the sound of axé music and other Brazilian genres. Walking along the Promanade do Alcool (esplanade de alcohol) and listening to the music is a real Brazilian experience. For us a perfect place to find a spot on the beach for a few days R&R. The weather cleared, the sky was blue and the ocean 27 degrees and with 90 kilometer of palm tree lined beaches, no time to get bored. After a few days on the beach north of Port Seguro we were ready for the next beach.
We bypassed Salvador due to the weather. Salvador was founded by the Portuguese in 1549 and later became the hub of the African slave trade in the Americas. Five million Africans were brought to Brazil as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries.
En route we visited Recife the capital city of the State Pernambuco. Our planned stop at Porto Galinhas did not happen due to bad weather. (still wet season here) For the first time since entering Brazil we found a main road which could have been somewhere in the middle of Africa. The 101-ring road around Recife was an absolute disaster. (or was it that we had forgotten Africa?) For a city which hosted the 2014 FIFA world cup I would have hoped the main road system was better.
The other disappointment was Olinda. The town looked very much in despair due to lack of maintenance and care. Many church towers and walls looked like they were ready to crumble anytime, many walls had graffiti and trash everywhere. We decided not to stay but drive further north and enroute we enjoyed pristine white sandy beaches, high cliffs and many nice viewpoints. Despite a lot of rain on the way the climate is hot and humid (tropical). The less perfect roads must be due to the African influence however thanks to their descendants who carefully preserved and still celebrate a wide range of African traditions, Recife is marked by an intriguing cultural mix with lots of African music. At night, women prepare traditional Afro-Brazilian food for the locals in the many cobblestone streets. The classic street snack to try is acaraje, balls of dough fried in dende (palm) oil and served with spicy sauces. It starts to look like a different Brazil we saw down south. But it is not all about Africa in Brazil’s north-east though. The region is home to several gorgeously preserved historic cities famous for their colonial historic centre and old houses, colonial churches and steep cobblestone streets, it’s like walking through a larger-than-life museum. Combine this with blissful white beaches along the Atlantic coastline – from the fashionable holiday enclaves such as Praia de Pipa to the small fishing villages of Alagoas, and extending all the way up to the sand dunes of Natal. From Natal north things start to become more remote. It is becoming clear Brazil like Mozambique, South East Tanzania, Zanzibar, the west coast of Australia and parts of Thailand are full of soft white sandy beaches, rainforest, swaying coconut palms and clear blue water. You find beaches characterised by impressive sand cliffs, tiny fishing villages with the friendliest people. We stopped at Canoa Quebrada, not far from Ponta Grossa, a fishing community characterised by fair haired locals (of Dutch origin – due to a shipwreck).
JIJOCA de JERRCOACOARA to FRENCH GUIANA BORDER
We have now arrived in Jijoca de Jerricoacoara. Our plan was to stay 2 or 3 days but this could easy become 10 days, as the area around here is Paradise. Jerricoacoara is known by Brazilians as Jerri, it’s casual, laid back and a fabulous place to spend a few days in fact a few weeks.
The town has a wide sandy beach and lots of large sand dunes and lagoons in the area. It is also known as a major world kitesurfing destination as well as being popular for other water sports. The streets are covered in sand hence barefoot is the go. Jerri is a place removed from the hurried modern world of maniac deadlines and traffic jams. A place where streets are paved with sand, where beaches stretch as far as the eye can see and where warm water mixes with palm swaying breezes. We are told less than 20 years ago, Jerricoacoara was a secluded and simple fishing village. There were no roads, no electricity, no phones, no TV’s, no newspapers, and money was rarely used. But even now with the tourists arriving it still is the kind of idyllic place where many people end up deciding to stay for longer than they had originally planned. It’s great to wander down to the beach and have a drink from the little beach stalls selling caipirinhas and exotic fruity variations. The scooter does work overtime sightseeing around the small villages. Leaving Jerricoacoara was difficult but our 90-day visa for Brazil is now down to 53 days. En route to Lencois Maranhenses National park we were stopped at a small wooden bridge and told by the military police this bridge was Max 6000KG (despite telling him our 11500KG truck was just 7000KG we had to turn around the long way).
We decided to give the Park a miss and continue for Belem. Belem is the capital of the Brazilian state of Pará. It is also the state’s largest city and one of the most populous in the country. This is an important destination, as it acts as the gateway to the majestic Amazon River, which remains one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions. Next it was time to organize a barge (pontoon) to get our truck to Macapa 550km North of Belem. The new rules made it impossible for passengers and truck to travel together. I suppose someone has seen the Health and Safety rules on TV or satellite TV overseas? It being school holidays, rules were strictly policed we were told? The choice we had was to fly or take the passenger boat to Macapa (28 hours). Neither appealed to us and most importantly, I did not l like the idea of leaving my truck alone on a pontoon floating down the Amazon.
Thanks to Caito (a good friend of our Rio contact Leo) we did meet the shipping company owner, and 20 minutes later all was sorted! Rules changed as of June 15 it appeared. After a little bargaining, we were charged 1700 for our 7 meters by 3.60 high and 2.5-meter-wide truck weighing 11500KG. We saw some horrendous U-tube movies about waves over the top of trucks but in our case it was choppy the first 6 hours however from then on it was smooth sailing. The 36 hours became 52 hours as our Friday barge never left till Saturday 3 PM, arriving in Macapa at 6PM on Monday night. At least it allowed us an extra day in Belem. We visited a big fish market with fish that can’t be found anywhere else, from huge giant fish of the Amazon to small scaled fish and many kinds of Piranhas. The fish market is located right next to the Mercado Vero-O-Peso on the Belem’s river front. Here they sell local craft, natural essence perfumes, plus typical local Amazon food, native fruit and meat. Our campsite was not fancy (church carpark) but it was in the middle of town and around the corner from the police, so secure. Did You Know: Belem is the 11th city in the top 50 most dangerous places on earth with 1600 murders per year!!! It should be noted that 19 of the 50 cities on the list are in Brazil! As we left Belem by pontoon it did not take long before we got a lesson about the Amazon and the state of Ampara and what to look for by the local people on the barge. (funny that despite the changed rules we also had 8 or 9 truck drivers on the pontoon, I suppose this is Brazil). The Amazon receives the water of several great rivers, the Tapajos, the Xingu, and the Tocantins. At the mouth of the Amazon is Marajp Island right across from Belem , as well as several other large islands. The whole area is covered with dense tropical rainforest, with thousands of species of broad-leaved evergreen trees. The soil under the rainforest canopy, where little light reaches the ground, is deeply leached and, when the forest is cleared, quickly loses its capacity to produce crops. The largest land animal of the area here is the tapir; there are many smaller animals, including several species of cat. There are small settlements and trading posts on the principal rivers and tributaries, and there are plantations and small, scattered groups of Indians. Some of these Indians we were told live so remote and isolated that even at the end of the 20th century they still had little or no contact with modern civilization. Transportation within this state and externally is entirely by water or air.
The state Amapá is situated in the extreme north east of Brazil, bordered by French Guiana, Suriname, the Atlantic Ocean and is home to just under 700000 people most living in the capital Macapa, which is only accessible by air or water.
This state is also notable because it is divided by the equator, placing some of it in the Northern Hemisphere, while the remainder is situated in the Southern Hemisphere. The vast Amazon Jungle constitutes about 90% of the vegetation and landscape of this Brazilian state, giving it an eerie quality of tropical mystery, particularly since well over two-thirds of this jungle is yet to be explored. It has an extremely hot, humid climate typical of tropical areas. The Amazon Rainforest is one of the world’s richest and most valuable habitats in terms of its abundance in plant- and animal species. In fact, more than 33% of all the species in the world can be found in the Amazon Jungle alone! Our 52 hour pontoon trip crossing the amazon is definitely one of the highlights of our trip sofar, the next highlight was the trip North from Macapa to Oiapogue. The road was perfect for the first 400 odd km, however 40 km before our planned camp spot (recommended by another overlander) we hit bad dirt and mud and heavy rain hence the going was slow (38.3 KM in 4 hours). As it became dark 1.8KM before our camp spot we were stopped by 7 trucks bogged in deep mud………..
We camped overnight on the road. The next 2 days we covered 3.5km mainly pulling out trucks and pulling trucks/cars up hills. The heavy rain did not help nor did the extreme heat and humidity (38 degrees with 100% humidity), anyway this is all part of an amazon adventure. Our plan was to visit Tumucumaque National Park. We were told this is the largest National tropical park in the world, but the heavy deep river crossings and mud made us decide to not visit (pls note: this is a very remote area, which should not be travelled alone)
After we arrived in Oiapoque we were in the most northern and I am sure most remote part of Brazil. It was time for a shower, visit the Police and Custom office to sign out of Brazil and make our way to the French border.
Writing history as the first Dutch people to drive from Brasil into Europe/France and the EU, French customs allowed us to stay at the border carpark a great spot looking down at the river. Brasil we will be back soon.
BACK IN BRASIL
The Amazon experience, like the Guyana experience would never have been the same without the help from some very good friends. (not to mix up with Face book friends)
Special thank you to:
1.Leo our Dutch friend Documentary maker/Producer in Rio de Janeiro.
2.Chicao owner of Amazon film producer for many film/TV companies such as National Geographic, BBC World, Animal Planet, CCN, Renegade USA and Century Fox. Films such as Anaconda, Amazon 3d Imax, Land of Gold, River Monsters, Amazon Apocalypse, Ocean Giants, History of explorer Bates, Baby Miracles (monkey’s) Helen Skelton Amazing Adventure, David Beckham into the unknown and soap operas like Naked and Afraid (huge hit in the USA) 2 Brothers and the program Survival, just to name a few.
3.Hotel Tropical allowing us to stay in the carpark with an incredible view of the Rio Negro river. Bernardo you have been great.
4.Chicao’s staff: Sandro (our guide while travelling the Amazon), Cosmos our captain, and Claudio our cook and the boat via our friend Chicao. Many thanks to all of you.
Without you guys our Amazon experience and knowledge would have been very different. Even more satisfying was that you professionals were taking a tourist along with no commercial intentions. I am sure we will be back as we will do another Amazon circle in the next 18 months, starting from Peru we may even take some friends along.
MANAUS & AMAZONE RIVER/RAINFOREST
First stop Manaus. After we had run out of food and water shopping was the priority, also required were disinfectants and antiitch crème as we were covered in infected mozzie and other bites. Next: repair the punctured tyre.
99.5 % of the tourists fly into Manaus located 3000 KM North West of Rio de Janeiro. (by plane).
The old downtown is shabby and bustling. Along the shoreline in the upscale Ponta Negra area where you’ll find the familiar beachside high-rises, wide streets, and waterfront kiosks. This is where we camped at Hotel Tropical. Hard to imagine you are in the middle of nowhere with nearly 1700km of forest in every direction. Manaus’s 2 million people live on the shores of the Rio Negro, just upstream from where it joins the Rio Solimões to become the Amazon. Manaus is a trade free zone and many national and international manufacturers have factories in Manaus. Industries include electronics, chemical products, and soap; also ship construction industries, steel and aluminum. The city has an international airport. Manaus also exports Brazil nuts, rubber, jute and rosewood oil. There is a large army presence. One of the biggest employers in the city, the Brazilian army has a jungle-training school in Manaus.
Manaus is 1500km inland from the Atlantic Ocean and is a major ocean port handling freighters and cruise ships. Just east of the city, the dark Negro River converges with the brown, muddy Solimões River resulting in a striking visual phenomenon called the “Meeting of the Waters”, the combined tributaries form the Amazon River.
Pink Dolphins .
The Amazon river dolphin, also known as the pink river dolphin or boto, lives only in freshwater. It is found throughout much of the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. It is relatively abundant with an estimated population in the tens of thousands. However, it is classified as vulnerable in certain areas due to dams that fragment and threaten certain populations, and from other threats such as contamination of rivers and lakes. It joins the ranks of the shark and the sea turtle as some of the oldest creatures on Earth.
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest. It is also home of over 1 million Indians in Brazil. They are divided into about 400 tribes, each with their own language, culture and territory. Many have had contact with outsiders for already 500 years. Our interest is/was in any indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest. In the depths of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil live tribes who have no contact with the outside world. Illegal loggers and cattle ranchers are invading their land and bringing disease. Brazil’s Amazon is home to more uncontacted tribes than anywhere in the world. The number of indigenous people living in the Amazon Basin is poorly quantified, but some 20 million people in 8 Amazon countries are classified by the Department of French Guiana as “indigenous”. Two-thirds of this population lives in Peru, but most of this population dwells not in the Amazon, but in the highlands. They are home to tribal people who rely on their surroundings for food, shelter and medicines. Today very few forest people live in traditional ways; most have been displaced by outside settlers or have been forced to give up their lifestyles by governments. (Like we have seen near Manaus where Columbian Indians are setting up Indian villages to entertain tourists). Despite hundreds of years of contact with white people, Indians have in most cases fiercely maintained their language and customs in the face of the massive theft of, and encroachment onto, their lands. Most Indian tribes live entirely off the forests, savannas and rivers by a mixture of hunting, and fishing. They grow plants for food and medicine and use them to build houses and make everyday objects. During the past 100 years almost all their land has been stolen from them and turned into vast, dry networks of cattle ranches, soya fields and sugar cane plantations. Many Indian communities are crammed into overcrowded reserves, and others live under tarpaulins by the side of highways. The native Indians hunt animals such as peccaries, tapir, monkeys, and birds like the curassow.
Some tribes, like the Matis, use long blowguns with poisoned darts to catch prey. Most use bows and arrows, and some now use shotguns. As pressure mounts to exploit their lands, all uncontacted Indians are extremely vulnerable both to violent attack (which is common), and to diseases widespread elsewhere like flu and measles, to which they have no immunity.
The Amazon rainforests are also referred to as the ‘Lungs of the Planet’ because it produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen, is bursting with life with millions of species of plants and animals who live in rainforests. The Amazon Jungle is the largest rainforest on earth and is home to 427 mammals (e.g. Jaguar, Sloth, and River Dolphin), 1,300 birds (e.g. Macaw), 378 reptiles (e.g. Anaconda and Jesus lizard), more than 400 amphibians including the Poison Dart Frog. Many of these threatened animals live within the Amazon Rainforest including the Giant Otter, South American Tapir and Red-Faced Uakari Monkey.
The Amazon River
The sheer volume of rain in the Northern half of South America (the Amazon jungle) including Peru and Bolivia feeds the Amazon. As rain falls it flows to the river basin into the lowest place in the pan, which happens to be the Amazon River creating the enormous river known as the Amazon. The Amazon River has its source high in the Peruvian Andes, at an elevation of 5,598 m. This is just 192 km from the Pacific Ocean. the Amazon River steadies its descent towards the Atlantic Ocean at a rate of 1.5 cm for every kilometer, over a distance of over 6,400 km. For the last Century the length of the Amazon and the Nile Rivers have been in a tight battle for title of world’s longest river. The exact length of the two rivers varies over time and reputable sources disagree as to their actual length. But there is no doubt the Amazon carries the greater volume of water. At its widest point the Amazon River can be 11km wide during the dry season. During the Wet Season the Amazon River can be up to 40km wide. In an average dry season 110,000 square km of land are water-covered, while in the wet season the flooded area of the Amazon Basin rises to 350,000 square km. The mouth of the Amazon River, where it meets the sea, is so wide and deep that ocean-going ships can navigate its waters as far inland as Manaus 1500km from the river mouth. As for fishing, I am not a fisherman, but imagine a Catfish weighing 110kg, or an Arapaima, also known locally as Pirarucu weighing 200kg and around 4 meters long! (I only saw them on the fishmarket) I am told it’s the largest freshwater fish in the world. Oh and bye the way we did catch piranhas…
MANAUS TO PORTO VEHLO (BR-319)
The BR-319 is a Brazilian highway with a total length of 857 km, linking the cities of Manaus and Porto Velho. It states the road is an all-weather road however it appears to be impassable on numerous occasions during rainy days because of the mud and broken bridges. After 857km the road arrives at Porto Velho. For us except from a few muddy stretches and 2 broken bridges the road was uneventful. The road was built by Brazil’s military regime in the 1970’s with the intent to open the Amazon rainforest for economic purposes. Groups of scientists asked for the cancellation of the reconstruction of highway BR-319. The main argument is that the road would bring more deforestation for one of the preserved regions of the Amazon. However, this argument is now lost and in the next 2 years the BR 319 will be paved all the way including concrete bridges so the annual wet season no longer washes away the timber bridges. So, for those procrastinating at home or working on their trucks to make them even more perfect, HURRY UP. Like in Africa also here in America many tracks are being paved and in 2019 it will be possible to drive from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Georgetown in Guyana, Parimaribo in Suriname or Cayenne in French Guiana all on bitumen. At present the only issues we encountered were the paved roads build in the 70’s full of deep potholes or missing pavement replaced by huge corrugations that will screw up your vehicle’s wheel alignment, crack a rim or loosen your dashboard. Europeans seem to love this type of corrugations (and it is part of what they call OFF ROAD DRIVING). I hate it; have driven on it for 37 years in Australia.
Our highlight of the BR 319
A convoy of 6 German 4WD’s racing past us at speeds well above what would be suitable for these roads (our average speed was 27km per hour for the nearly 900KM). I should have known they were German as they came up with flashing lights indicating they wanted to go past. Once we realized they were German we hoped they would stop for a chat. But no. they were too much in a hurry. The second last car did stop hence we also stopped. Unfortunately he just had enough time to lower the window 4 inches (airco going full blast to keep it cool and the dust out!) to stick his big lens out of the window, to take a picture and raced off again! We just could not believe it.
After around 1.5 hours we did see a broken-down car and yes you guessed it, it was one of the German Mercedes Gelande wagons that overtook us. The question here was do we stop or just drive on? We stopped. Yes, he hit a big bump and broke something under the car. We did find out they were on an organized tour 16000KM in 6 weeks from French Guiana to Uruguay. (HOLY MACKERAL) The group consisted of a tour guide in his own 4WD and a mechanic with his car full of spares. Unfortunately the mechanic was in the vehicle in the front (you would think he would be the last vehicle). Anyway, he was on his way back. Other interesting point was that overnight stops were in guesthouses or hotels. But last night they had to bush camp!!!!!!!!!!! It was a bit scary with all the noise of animals they said?! I suppose very different than the overland garden parties they are used to. Roger and Andy, you would be proud of your ARB distributors in Germany as the ARB aftermarket gear (brand new) was everywhere.
Talking bush camping: plenty of great spots along the way and lots of birdlife and other small wildlife.
It took us 2.5 days to complete the BR 319 and after a few quiet nights we stayed at the service station in Humaita getting used to the sound of trucks again. It was also time to repair the broken cabin bolt with the help of some truckers.
PORTO VEHLO to THE PANTANAL
After a long, boring 3 days driving on asphalt we have arrived in the Northern Pantanal. Shit, Brazil is a big country! The Pantanal is an immense tropical wetland located in western Brazil. Renowned for its wildlife, it’s home to hundreds of species of birds, along with fauna like jaguars, caimans and capybaras. With a total area of almost 195 000 square kilometres, the Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world. Summer had started in the Pantanal and temperatures soared over 40 degrees C. Our stay at Jaguar Camp was amazing and Aidon our guide and owner of the camp was a wealth of information, showing us 7 Jaguars in the one day. Here in the Pantanal we did see more wild life in the one day than anywhere else in Brazil. There are more different types of flora and fauna found in the Pantanal than just about anywhere else in the world. Next was our drive along the eastern part of the Pantanal to Bonito. Bonito is a town and ecotourism hub in Mato Grosso do Sul state. It is promoted as an Eco Tourism destination. We loved the nice campsite in Bonito (Pousada/Camping do Peralta) a perfect spot for some well-earned R&R after 9 weeks of lots of activities and some hardship in the mud. It has clean showers, toilets, swimming pool, BBQ and shade (much needed in 40 degrees heat).
The surrounding area is known for crystal-clear rivers such as the Rio da Prata, a snorkelling destination abounding with fish. The Abismo Anhumas is a huge, stalactite-covered cavern that offers abseiling and diving in an underground lake. Flocks of macaws nest in the deep, ocher-colored depression Buraco das Araras. It did not take us long to work out that in Bonito the word ECO means $$$$$$$. 50 USD for snorkelling in a river (you are kidding me!!!) I know lots off colourful fish, but we can see this at home, so we decided to take the walk to South America’s largest sink hole. Again a guide was mandatory and the cost $ 50 AUD p.p. for one hour walk over a well-established pathway. It was nice and we saw Macaws but had seen them before for free. (I know we are getting spoilt) We enjoyed our stay at the camp and lazed the days away taking our scooter out for short trips to waterholes in the area. A must according to other campers was Gruta do Lago Azul a cave with crystal clear water and nearly 90 meters deep,
I am told one of the world biggest flooded caves. But after 9 weeks of Rainforest, Amazon, Boat trips, Mud and Mosquitos, we decided to stay in our campsite around the pool area, clean the truck etc.
I am no wild life expert but this is what we learned from our guide Aidon who owns Jaguar Camp in Porto Joffre where we camped for 3 days. He is not the cheapest but his boat is fast hence the first to arrive at most sightings.
VERY IMPORTANT. It is worth the money?
I have stated some of the most fascinating animals below, all Found in the Pantanal
Capybara: the Capybara is the world’s largest rodent. Weights around 100KG. It does look like an oversized rat without the tail. They live-in groups of up to 20 and spend most of their time in the water. They feed on aquatic vegetation.
Jaguar: The reason we came to the Pantanal in the first place was to see the jaguar. The Pantanal has a very high concentration of cats. The Jaguar is the third largest cat species on the planet, weighing between 90 and 120 KG. It is estimated that only 15000 Jaguars are left in the world and we are told over 6000 live in the Pantanal. Jaguars feed on a variety of meats, such as deer, capybara, monkeys and tapirs. There are three other cat species found in the Pantanal but we never saw them.
Tapir: The Tapir is a favourite oddity for almost everyone lucky enough to spot one. But their erratic movement throughout the Pantanal makes them incredibly hard to find. They can show up almost anywhere… or nowhere. The Tapir looks like an Elephant crossed with an Anteater, but belongs to the same suborder as Rhinoceros. It’s also the largest animal in the Pantanal, weighing in at a hefty 300 to 400KG. we did see one on the way to Bonito while driving the eastern side of the Pantanal.
The Birds of the Pantanal
The Brazilian Pantanal is renowned as a birder’s paradise. Its 75,000 square miles of land is temporary or permanent home to a whopping 1,000+ endemic and migratory bird species.
These are the ones we saw:
Jabiru Stork: The beautiful Jabiru is the second largest flying bird in the Americas after the Andean Condor. They can often be seen stomping away at muddy shallows of water in the Pantanal. The Jabiru can grow as tall as 55 inches and have a wingspan as large as nine feet. (we do have them in Australia too).
Kingfishers: Perhaps the most prevalent of the Pantanal’s smaller bird species, there are 4 types of Kingfishers that spend time swooping the waters of the wetland region’s rivers and ponds. The Amazon Kingfisher – green with an orange breast and standing up to a foot tall – is the largest and most common. The Green Kingfisher is also a common sight. We missed the Green, Rufous and Pygmy Kingfishers.
Macaws: Two species of Macaw are frequently spotted in the Pantanal the beautiful Blue-and-Yellow Macaw, which grows to be about 30 inches tall. The other Macaw is the Hyacinth Macaw, which is a bright blue bird with yellow markings around the eye and beak. These birds are usually found in pairs, as Macaws generally mate for life.
Caiman: There are an estimated 20 million Caiman living in the Pantanal, which is about the total human population of Australia.
From extremely small babies to full-grown adults, we saw them lazing next to the road, in the water across from our bush camp and any pool of water in the wetlands. The most seen species of Caiman is the Yacare, which grow up to eight feet in length. Amazingly, despite their size and imposing image, Caiman remain among the Jaguar’s favourite meal choices.
Caiman Lizard: A medium-sized lizard, the Northern Caiman Lizard is a great find if you can spot one. These snake-like lizards can grow up to four feet in length. What makes the Caiman Lizard so interesting is that it spends most of its life in the water, with a diet that consists almost entirely of snails. Unfortunately, we never saw one.
Big-Headed Swamp Turtle: One of the few turtle species that survive in the region. It’s known for its disproportionately large head. We are told it looks more like a cartoon character than a living animal. Growing to around nine inches in length, this bizarre beauty is arguably one of the Brazilian Pantanal’s most colourful characters. BUT we never saw one.
PANTANAL to FLORIANOPOLIS
It was time to leave the Pantanal, the 90 days of our visa are running out fast. Once we left the state of Mata Grosso we entered Mata Grosso del Sur, smaller but still the size of Germany. The economy of the state is largely based on agriculture, cattle-raising and Eco Tourism. For us the southern Pantanal was disappointing after all the wild life we had seen in the northern Pantanal. One animal we did see only once was the Giant Anteater, while others saw them many times. We were told the heat (it was well over 40 degrees Celsius) would have kept them in the shade. The one we saw was large but due to the high grass was hard to see. Giant Anteaters reach a total body length up to 2.20 meters and weigh up to 40KG(males) 38KG (Females). Its huge head is 30cm long. SPECIAL NOTE. publishing someone else’s photo? I have published our own Anteater picture next to one I have picked of Wikipedia. (shows the Anteater much better) This photo has no copywrite or a name of the person that took it. (if they have we use the name). Having published over 30.000 photos on Facebook-Websites and other social media over the last 13 years of overlanding (8 years of international travel and 4 years Australia) the number of photos not mine would be less than 10 and when names where published we always mention the names. Remember we are no photographers, nor a journalist selling stories or photos and we do not make a living travelling around the world nor do we sell books, T Shirts, stories to magazines, sell pictures to the media. We just enjoy our retirement and like to give as much information as possible for new overlanders, overlanders planning to visit the area and friends and would be or could be overlanders sitting at home.
Back onto the bitumen and toll roads it became 3 days of driving towards the South-East coast. First stop planned was Blumenau, a German village but being disappointed with our visit to Holambra on our way north we gave it a miss and went straight for Florianopolis. (called Floripa by the locals) Florianopolis is famous for its beaches and a heaven for surfers. The famous cable-stayed bridge Hercílio Luz is being repaired at present. Hence just one way in or out resulting in traffic congestion. The city is considered safe by Brazilian standards. Florianópolis had the second-lowest incidence of murders of Brazilian capitals. Most of the population lives on the mainland (700000) and on the island’s central and northern parts (400000). The southern half is less inhabited. The economy of Florianopolis is based on IT and Tourism.
The city is the best place to live in Brazil according to a magazine called Veja. In 2012 while overlanding in Thailand we met Paulo and Elisangela. It was great to meet up again in Floripa where they live. We had a great time with them, met some of their friends and did a presentation about overlanding at the local high school. The south of Brazil tends to be colder and it is no different with Florianopolis. Upon our arrival the temperature had dropped to just 25 degrees from over 40 degrees just 3 days ago while in the Pantanal. Floripa is the city of 60 beaches but during our stay it was too cold and windy for the beach. After saying our goodbyes, it was off to Garopaba a small town just 1.5 hours from Floripa. The weather cleared and it became warmer but the wind was strong hence not ideal beach weather.
FLORIANOPOLIS to BORDER URUGUAY
After leaving Garopaba we followed the route Paolo and Elisangela suggested.
First stop Serra do Rio do Rastro. The narrow steep mountain road, with interesting hairpins some requiring a 4-point turn with our truck , remarkable views, landscapes and deep cliffs made it an interesting journey to the top with our 12500KG truck. On numerous occasions we had to reverse to let others go past. We are told the steepest parts were 27%. Its highest point is situated at 1,460 meters. On a clear day the Atlantic Ocean located about 100 km away, can be spotted. Frost are common and snowfalls can occur in the higher areas. During our overnight stay at the viewpoint it got down to 13 degrees however waking up in the morning above the clouds and with sunshine was perfect. We returned down the mountain the same way as we came up yesterday but the weather started to close in and it started raining. Next stop Cambara do Sul, but unfortunately very poor visibility, cold and wet. We stayed an extra day, but no luck. Our main interest were the Fortaleza Canyon and Itaimbezinho Canyon. After waiting an extra day we did visit the Itaimbezinho Canyon the most famous of the Aparados da Serra National Park and the largest in this area. It is 5,800 meters long and 720 meters high. But with no visibility during our visit we had bad luck. The canyons are home to animals including the armadillo, the elusive mountain lion, the maned wolf, the brown howler monkey, the pampas deer and the capybara, the largest living rodent in the world. We did not see any. Overnight we stayed in Cambara do Sul, and we were told this is the coldest place in Brazil and snow is common here in winter. Waking up to brilliant sunshine the following morning it was time to visit The Fortaleza Canyon. This canyon is 8.2 kilometers long, more than 1000 meters deep and we are told the largest in Brazil. The visit includes a viewpoint at 1167 meters, a waterfall 1000 meters high over 4 drops and a monolithic block of 5 meters high resting on a small base of 50 cm, giving the impression that it is going to fall at any time. long walk, but no view due to low clouds rolling in!!!
We returned to a warm campfire near Cambara do Sul and were disappointed not having been able to see the canyon. Next stop Gramado along the scenic route known as Rota Romantica a swiss-Italian-German alpine village in Brazils southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. the town has a Bavarian feel with Alpine chalets, chocolatiers and artisan shops. It has been years since we have had a meat fondue and this town must have fondue in every restaurant we looked at.
Gramado is an extremely popular tourist destination for Brazilians due to its cool weather, with European architecture. (well that is what Brazilians think!!!!) We were not so sure, but agree with the statement: very touristy. We followed the BR116-south crossing Rio Grande do Sul Brazil’s most southern state till around 150km south of Porto Alegre before turning east towards the coast again. Porto Alegre is the 4th largest city in Brazil. (4.5 million people) Rio Grande do Sul has a gaucho culture like its southern neighbor Uruguay. Many people from Germany and Italy migrated to this area in the 19th century. We are out of Visa and need to leave Brazil.
SUMMARY 90 DAYS BRASIL
90 days Brazil
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, sprawling across half of South America. White-sandy beaches, tropical islands, music-filled cities, carparks, city parks and charming colonial towns are dotting its 7,500-km long coastline. Inland, Brazil’s tourist attractions consist of imposing waterfalls, (Not another waterfall!!) wetlands filled with wildlife, and the untouched wilderness of the Amazon rainforest where several isolated tribes still live without any contact with the rest of the world.
90 days is not enough to cover this country. We planned it wrong, we should have only covered the southern half of the country and leave the Northern part till we arrived in Peru or Bolivia. Hindsight is a great thing. Like in Australia the main attractions are far apart hence long days of sometimes boring driving.
Like in Africa international tourists pay more for entrance fees than the locals at attractions. I wonder how a Brazilian would feel if he visited Australia or Europe and would be charged more? If you are a tourist, the cost of living and visiting attractions are very expensive based on the average income of Brazilians. Not to mention the high Visa cost for citizens of some countries. Many tourists seem to compare the cost to where they come from but I feel this is incorrect, cost of goods and attractions should be based on average income of a country. The current minimum salary in Sao Paulo is of R$ 1.000,00, which converts to $311 dollars per month as of January 2017. (as an example, a walkaround the sink hole in Bonito cost us 50 dollars AUD for one hour!! Floating down a clear river75 dollars AUD per person!!) The minimum salary in the Sao Paulo state is currently one of the highest in Brazil. Currently Brazil has a rather complex system of minimum wages, with a national minimum wage, and in some cases, state minimum salaries. State minimum salaries are usually present in wealthier parts of the country such as the Sao Paulo state and Rio de Jainero. The national average minimum wage hovers around 204 Euro’s per month or 2450 Euros per year (Oct 2016) (source local newspaper). Of the top 50 cities with the most murders in the world Brazil has 19 cities listed (homicide per 100000), compared to South Africa just 3. Rio de Janeiro’s crime rate is stunning. 100 police officers were killed in Rio de Jainero in between Jan 2017 and Aug 2017. In July 2017, 196 shootouts with police. Between Jan 1 and July 2, 632 bystanders were killed by stray bullets…………. Would I like to live in Brazil? The honest answer is no. Would I come back to Brazil as a Tourist a big YES. Love the people, Love the music and we love the Northern Part of Brazil and the chances are that we will return to the North of Brazil entering from Peru to do another around the Amazon, this time circling the Amazon by car and include Santarem.
Tchau Brazil, we enjoyed our time in your country
Highlights for us were
1. Foz do Iguazu waterfalls
2. The northern part of the Pantanal
3. The Amazon Jungle, River and Rainforest
4. The Brazilian beaches in the far North East of the country.
5. The coast between San Paulo and Rio De Jainero
6. The boat trip (Truck ferry or Balsa/Pontoon) from Belem to Macapa
Brazil the Positives
1. Super friendly people.
2. Great music.
3. Great attractions (but far apart, be prepared for long days driving)
4. Great network of main highways, despite poorly build and not smooth. (Central Brazil are mainly toll roads but this does not mean they are in great condition)
5. Great bush camping (but warned many times by locals re crime in the area)
6. Along the main highways great truck stops with free overnight parking many with WIFI and better facilities then most camping’s and RV parks.
7. Great sandy beaches in the North East of Brazil.
Brazil the Negatives
1. Very few people speak a second language.
2. Huge country only 90-day visa in 180 days.
3. Hardly any tourist information in English
4. Speed humps, even on main highways?!?!
5. Speed Camera’s, telling you to do 40KM, Brazilians pass with 25KM and then they race off again.
6. Police check points with speed humps and camera’s not sure why as we never saw anyone being stopped? Those officers would be better off chasing criminals?
7. Point 3-4-5 many times all at the same location?
8. RV parks and camping’s, poorly maintained, dirty and expensive. (let’s say 95% of them)
9. Long distance between major points of interest.