Brazil - Pantanal Wildlife Trail Trip ReportsThe base for the South American Wildlife Trail & Safari is the Baia dos Pedros Ranch. The Refúgio Ecológico "ecologic refuge" is located approximately 140 miles from Campo Grande in a 130,000 acres farm, of which 17,000 constitute an isolated reserve with very rich flora and fauna. It has a diverse landscape of savanna lowlands, seasonal wetlands and rich forest areas. The Pedros Ranch is also an active working ranch with over 5.000 cattle. The Pantanal, known as the world biggest ecological sanctuary and largest wetland area, covers some 240,000 sq.kms of the upper Paraguay river basin. About 2/3 of it belong to the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, extending to the west into Bolivia and southwest to Paraguay. During 6 days (5 full & 2 half days) the group will be riding on the vast lands while the omnipresent wildlife catches the attentions and provokes breathtaking surprises during the whole trail. It is imperative, though, to keep cameras ready at all times. The trail includes boat cruises on the Aquidauana river, an affluent to the Rio Paraguay, to watch the river animals and on a night excursion we show you how to caress a Cayman's neck.
Trip Report - Wildlife Trail Pantanal Brazil
We were greeted at the airport by Peter, a young university student who was our driver to the airfield outside of Campo Grande to pick up our air taxi to the Baia dos Pedros ranch. Despite our 20 hours in transit, Peter made us feel relaxed, welcomed and in safe hands. The air taxi was ready and waiting and we had a smooth flight to the ranch. Rita and a gaggle of lovely young children were our greeting party as we taxied down the grass strip runway, and we were ushered like royalty to our simple, but clean, fresh and functional bedroom with private bathroom off the main salon. We relaxed on the front gallery and 'decompressed' with very relaxed conversation with Rita, visiting friends, Peter and Ronny, the air taxi pilot. Peter would translate the important stuff, but mainly he was good at letting us acclimatize our ears to Portuguese - we were there to learn as much as we could about everything!
Lunch was the first of all the delicious meals we were to have, both at Rita's and then at the Paso Alto. All meals were highlighted by local cuisine, the most delicious meat I have ever tasted, home made breads, beignets and rolls, exotic fruits and vegetables, home made cheeses, compotes, and cane fudge and caramel sauces. During our trip we were treated to fresh piranha, caiman, suckling pig, a BBQ of the hump of the Asian cow, and many other delicacies local to the country and the Pantanel.
After a walk to help digest and start to learn about the magnificent birds and wildlife, we went on a short ride to test our riding legs. Ryan, the Pantanero horses are wonderful. I am not an experienced or natural rider. Yet the horses and the saddles are made for comfort and security. I have never felt more safe or confident on a horse - and there were many changes of horse during the trip. They are all very calm and surefooted. While some are bumpy on the trot, they all have fast, smooth walks and very smooth cantor. We were able to ride over 10 hours on the first full day, and be ready for a sunrise start the next day!!
We were always escorted by at least one ranch hand, as well as Peter, and often there would be an additional escort to ensure we were well guided to the various destinations. Another remarkable aspect of Peter's advance planning was that each day of riding found us at a shady shelter, either a beautiful natural shelter or a ranch, when it was time for lunch/siesta. All the people we met during our trip through the Pantanel were very gentle and friendly. Even though no one could speak any English, we were all keen to communicate and we always found delightful ways to do so.
Our hosts, Rita and then Fernando, treated us like visiting friends rather than paying guests. They were kind and attentive hosts. Special experiences were Fernando arranging a spur of the moment night safari - there was a full moon - because Ronny, the pilot, insisted he could find us a jaguar in the dark. And he did! ( I think). But nothing will erase the memory of the millions of glitters reflecting off the large ponds - the unwinking yellow eyes of the caiman - or the light-frozen capybara willing us to pass on our noisy journey across the moonlit savanna. Or Rita finding out that Jennifer loved fishing - instantly a truck with a driver was at her disposal - again, escorted by Ronny, the pilot, who is a skilled hunter and delightful card player, Jen caught the biggest and the smallest piranha, and even gained enough confidence to go swimming in the cool ponds.
The fact that the Baia dos Pedros includes a boarding school for 30 Pantanero children which Rita supports from her own pocket, provided an additional aspect to our time there. The children provide another element - a rich and intense source of discovery about Pantaneran social and economic issues - as well as a delightful environment of laughter and soft voices to add to the symphony of the birds.
I could write a travelogue, and perhaps I may, about the Pantanel. When I consider the enormous distances, the uncertain communication lines, power outages, and the general chaotic and off-handed nature of Brazilians towards tourism, I am only beginning to realize the amount of patience and organization, and attention to detail required by Peter to make our trip so successful. He is an intelligent guide and sensitive to the quirks and personalities of his clients. He was flexible and adept at changing course when he got to know our particular tastes and interests. The time in Rio was great. The hotel beautiful - right on Copacabana beach - we went to non-tourist places for meals and entertainment - in a painfully too short period of time, thanks to Peter, we got a very tantalizing taste of Rio.
Ryan, both Jennifer and I would be happy to provide references to any of your clients who may be considering a trip to the Pantanel, or feel free to use any of my foregoing remarks.
Thank you for helping organize this extraordinary experience.
Janis A. Riven, Toronto
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