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Gareth Leonard

My Pantanal Experience

There was a split second when I saw bright red eyes emerge from dark blue water along the undisturbed river that I asked myself, what are you doing here? With no prior knowledge of the Pantanal before coming to Brazil, it was pretty safe to say that I was in for an eye-opening experience from the moment I arrived in the region. The Pantanal is one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, and is predominantly located within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The best way to access the remote wilderness is from one of two major ports, Cuiabá to the north and Campo Grande to the south. I decided to fly into Campo Grande from Brasilia to make it easier to head south after this adventure. Pantanal-CampoGrande1I was met at the airport by my trusty guide Gil, who took me around the city to explore before heading out for greener pastures first thing in the morning. The majority of the 4-hour road trip to the Pantanal was spent in a comfortable air-conditioned van on paved roads, but I knew we were getting close when we switched vehicles for a safari-style pick-up truck and bumpy dirt paths. We pulled into our camp just as the sun set across the wide-open landscape. We dropped off our bags and immediately jumped into a small motorboat to troll the riverbanks for wildlife. Pantanal-BoatFeet1It was on this maiden voyage that I first encountered the beaming red eyes of the local caiman, or jacaré. Our small boat moved silently along the grassy edges of the river towards them as their heads would disappear under the murky surface when we got too close. We went on to spot several that evening, and my uneasiness about the sightings quickly wore off as our guide explained that these guys are pretty much blind, deaf and lack a sense of smell, making them a not-so-threating hunter. Still, I’m not jumping in anytime soon. Pantanal-Caiman1Along with spotting caiman in the evening and again during the day, we also encountered capybaras, monkeys, giant otters and a countless number of bird species over the course of three days hiking, canoeing and boating in the Pantanal. Pantanal-Capivara1Our guide also showed us jaguar and anteater footprints, but we couldn’t spot them first-hand due to their illusiveness this time of year. I need to come back between November and February, when the water is low, to have another shot at spotting the big game. Another feared predator we did run into however, was the ever-aggressive Piranha, who came too close for his own good. With simple bamboo poles and chuck steak, four of us went out in a riverboat and came back with five big piranhas for the cook to make a delicious soup! Pantanal-MePiranha1I went from being spooked by a predator when I first arrived to becoming one of them. One must adapt when they are in the Pantanal.  

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