Benito is located in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the border with Paraguay and is a limestone plateau known as Bodequena that stretches for 300km. Bonito is famous for its crystal clear waters, due to being filtered through the limestone, in the local rivers and thus the amazing views it provides of the river inhabitants.
Our snorkel float was a typically good expedition here, well organised and informative. A wet suit, goggles and snorkel we paddle upstream for about 1.5km and then gently float back to the start point looking at the Piraputanga and Pacu fish which are about 50cm long or any of the other 40 or so species of fish you may encounter. An excellent experience.
Two of the group did an abseil into a sink hole to see an underground river and then a 72metre climb out on a rope using climbing sliders to get out. This was following a test the previous evening in the local gym that you were up to it ! A couple more were keen to do it but the normal diving in the lake wasn’t available so they passed – the rest of us just aren’t fit enough! Kudos to Mikkel and Terry.
Another typically excellent curry dinner and an early, 6.30am departure for the relatively short 250Km run to the southern end of the Pantanal wetlands where we are staying at Facienda (ranch) Santa Clara. We pitch camp on the river bank with at least 20 Caiman (crocodiles) visible in the water, we are assured they are more frightened of us than we are of them and provided we don’t step on one in the night we should be fine ……….
Facienda is Portuguese for ranch and we are staying at a purpose built block in the grounds of Santa Clara on a fully inclusive – food and activities basis, basic facilities but good fun. Block consists of a kitchen with ever smiling and friendly cooks who never seem to stop working and long lunch tables made of some local timber that is rock hard. Cooking is done on an open range with wood for fuel. On the first floor is a “dorm” equipped with hammocks as optional sleeping arrangements. And of course toilets and shower – basic but functional, the showers are unheated, fed from a water tank on the roof which is cold in the mornings but by the end of the day is plenty warm enough to shower in comfort.
Activities here include a number of guided tours into the wetlands – after lunch and a 3 hour siesta we are split into 2 groups, the other group go horse riding and we have a boat trip. Great views of the river and huge variety of birds including 5 types of kingfisher, herons, cranes and cormorants. Along with huge numbers of caiman and Capybara. Tom our guide is excellent and knowledgeable and enthusiastic to show us the wildlife he clearly loves. We see jaguar prints but no jaguar, the number one on any lists of animals to see here.
Highlight of the boat trip was the piranha fishing, Tom gave a demonstration of just how ferocious these are by putting a small piece of meat on his simple pole and line and within 2 seconds had hooked one. Definitely not somewhere to go swimming, he then proceeded to feed the fish to a passing caiman for a spectacular demonstration of its biting power. We landed and proceeded to fish, everyone eventually caught one although the piranhas also managed to eat their fair share of bait off the hooks. Tom cleaned the fish and we had them served fried for lunch – verdict piranha is tasty but bony!
Tuesday our group go horse riding, I pass as in the past its no been good for the hip, but Karen goes and has a fab time with the others. I just chill as it’s definitely warm! Whilst hanging around a family party arrives, we think to see the Caiman’s, but are fascinated by Ithaca (the truck) they came over to find out more and we gave them a quick guided tour. They then proceeded to take group photos in front of the Truck. Seems to have made their day!
In the evening we go for a walking / drive tour of the area and we get some great views of Coati, Howler Monkeys and endless birds. The area is particulalry famous for Blue McCaws and we saw plenty of them in and around the ranch along with some toucans, cranes and cormorants. It is so much better, thrillling and surpising, seeing them in the wild than caged in a bird park and a damn sight harder to photograph !
We went to a pool called 1000 Caimans, it was an understatement as there were at least several thousand there, apparently driven there by the unseasonably dry weather. Amazingly, large birds and the Capybara wander amongst them at will when they would appear to be a prime source of food. The Caimans haven’t figured out the advantage of numbers …………
Driving back Tom, our guide, use’s a powerful spotlight to see wildlife, especially tarantulas, I am thinking how are you going to spot a spider (even a big one) from a moving truck. I had seriously under estimated “big“– we stopped to have a look at one which must have had a leg span of at least 8 inches. An upturned glass and a piece of paper wouldn’t hack it on this brute, looking from the side of truck was close enough for me! Another highlight was shininng the light across another pool and seeing several hundred Caiman eyes reflected back, the 1000 Caiman pool would have been amazing.
Waiting for us was a huge bbq and a fine time ensued with food wine, beer and cocktails freely flowing. We had been shown a local fruit the juice of which is used as a sort of henna tattoo by indigenous people. Its colourless when applied but turns dark blue after a couple of hours, Duncan, an Australian, of our acquaintance was somewhat disbelieving and scorned the sample dots on arms the rest of us tried and applied it as war paint on his face. The next morning he believed!
Will post wildlife photos here – and I will try and accurately caption them – sorry failed…….too much to do!
Next stop (and Blog post) Paraty.
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