Our next destination is the state of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sol, and more specifically The Pantanal. But first we take a side trip to Itaipu Dam jointly owned by Brasil and Paraguay. It is the second biggest dam in the world, and so is absolutely colassal. Sadly they no longer run free trips as mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but we still paid about $10 each for a your in a double decker open top bus. It was pretty awesome, and our photos don't show it's immense size.
Then we had to get lots of miles under our belts to get to our destination, passing lots of sugar cane growing and huge ethanol plants. Many of the cars & motorbikes here run on ethanol made from the sugar cane.
Our first stop is the pretty, touristy town of Bonito, where we hunt for an agency to book a few tours. We find the very helpful Naurio Jorge og Angencia Brazil Nature (www.agenciaabn.com.br) who speaks fluent English, and he organises our tours. our first one is a tour of the Gruta do Lago Azul at 7.30am the next day. As all the tours are well out of town we choose to go and camp in the carpark for the night, so that we were there bright and early (in fact we were an hour early - we had not realised that there was a time change somewhere). The trip involved a walk into a cave with an amazing azure lake. We had a schoolgirl in our group who translated for us.
Then we drove on to an Estancia to get into wetsuits for an hour snorkel along a river. We wore life vests so that we could simply float down the river (this was to stop us damaging the environment by touching the bottom) It was incredibly clear with loads of huge fish. After a great buffet lunch we headed back into Bonito to the Municpal pools. We were having another very hot day in the high 30's. The pool was actually a bend in the river shared by people and fish alike. There were thousands of fish swimming in the water. We had a great few hours people and bird watching. There were lots of birds. I enjoyed the tocans and John enjoyed the birds with "dental floss" bums. We couldn't camp overnight in the pool's picnic area, so we simply moved next door and camped in front of the campground for free. (John did check if it was OK with them first)
We head north to Miranda on the scenic route (read here Lynda's navigation was a bit out) - the old dirt road. This proves to be great dispite having to detour through farms and open lots of gates. Eventually we are heading to the wetlands. At one bridge we cross we stop to see 100's of caimans (crocs) sunning themselves on the banks of the river. These are just the tip of the iceberg, apparently there are estimated to be 48 million caiman in the Pantanal. We eventually arrive at Passo do Lontra Parque Hotel, where we can camp right beside the wetlands. While we are there (with water on tap) we do 4 loads of washing. It drys in no time as it is so hot and humid. Sadly no swimming here....I don't fancy sharing the water with all those caiman. From here we can walk the extensive boardwalks to see loads of capybaras, caimans, birds and howler monkeys (and yes they do howl, especially very early morning) in the trees. We also go on a boat trip to spot even more wildlife, including some rare giant otters. All in all a great spot, but a tad too hot. Night is still in the 30's and our airconditioning won't work as their power is 110v.
We explore further north along more dirt roads with lots of wooden bridges, stopping to stay at an Estancia. There is a Canadian motorhome here, owned by a Swiss couple. We chat for ages and swap travel notes. We even get a glimpse of some lovely blue & yellow macaws. The Swiss couple tell us that a bridge is broken about 2km down the road, making the road impassable. Sure enough 2km down the road we have to turn around.
So we head back and then on to the northern Pantanal, stopping at the small town of Anastacia to get our tyres regrooved, so that we can do a lot more miles. Anyway many more miles of sugar cane, cotton and trucks before we finally reach the city of Cuiada. It is a relief to turn off the main road away from the bumps and millions of trucks. (Coming towards us they average 1 per minute)
Our next destination is the Transpantaneira Highway from Pocono to absoluely nowhere. Actually Porto Jofre. The road goes deep into the Pantanal and was never finished, but it has become a tourist destination, great for wildlife spotting. To call it a higheay is rather a misnomer - it is really a corrugated dirt track 145km long with 125 (yes we did count them) little rickety wooden bridges. The further we went, the better the wildlife and the waterways. We saw 1,00's of caiman, dozen's of capybara's, 100's of different birds, a few deer, a snake and even a young jaguar (it slinked across the road right in front of us). Sadly we did not see the elusive yellow, black spotted adult jaguar.
We camped right beside a pond/billabong choc full of caiman. After dark we went out with the torch to see all the yellow eyes glowing. Very spooky! John counted at leat 100 pair of eyes. It had been a scorhing hot day again at 40C so it was a relief when a cool change change came over, and it even rained the next morning. This caused problems on our way out as it turned the dirt track into slippery slush, clogging up our tyres so that it was like driving on slicks. At one particularily sticky part we sld off the shoulder of the track. We stayed parked at this angle for a while hoping the mud would dry a bit. Then John saved the day by letting the tyres down and putting Mactrack and branches under the wheels. Thank goodness for 4WD. We were back on the road and crept along very slowly until the road was dryer. All's well that ends well.