The giant parrot sculptures at Praça das Araras, Campo Grande (photo by Luis Bastardo)“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain
After several hectic days exploring the insanely busy city of São Paulo, it was time to get back to nature by traveling to one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Brazil, the large wildlife reserve known as The Pantanal. Brazil currently has 17 protected properties on the UNESCO list, with 17 more on the tentative list (proposed sites waiting for approval by the UNESCO committee). I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for months, since I love anything to do with nature, animals and/or national parks. I even have a US National Park passport to collect park stamps as one would collect country stamps (I'm still waiting for a UNESCO version of this passport to be published, but not such luck yet). The preliminary jumping off point for the Pantanal is a small, but neatly kept city called Campo Grande (pronounced Campo Gran-jay and meaning "large field"), where you can drive directly to the Pantanal or catch a connecting flight to either Bonito or Corumbá, then travel into the Pantanal by minibus or truck. Campo Grande itself is a relaxing and interesting city to visit though and we spent a few days de-urbanizing ourselves before trucking out to camp in the wilderness.
Campo Grande International Airport after circling for about an hour, which was odd, because we were the only plane. Literally. There are only two runways, one gate and we were the only arrival. Campo Grande is a city of about 800,000 inhabitants located in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, on the border of Bolivia and Paraguay. Its economy is largely based on services, agriculture and lately, the military. We caught a taxi into town, found a nice hotel called the Ibis (everything seems to be bird-themed in Campo Grande) and signed up for the city tour. The popular tour features a small but impressive art museum, a cultural center called the Memorial da Cultura Indígena, situated in a small indigenous neighborhood, much poorer and less developed than the rest of Camp Grande, the airport entrance with its giant ibis sculptures (more birds) and various memorials (to break up the bird theme, there is an armed alligator dressed in combat fatigues standing guard at the Western Brazilian Army Headquarters).
An alligator (locally known as a caiman) protecting the Western Brazilian Army Headquarters (photo by Luis Bastardo)
In the evening, we visited Shopping Campo Grande, the only major shopping mall in town to see the weekly concert of the local Beatles cover band called Beatles Maníacos (Beatles Maniacs), which was actually very good. They were especially impressive since not one of them spoke more than a few words of English, but had memorized every word of their collection of Beatles' songs, all pronounced in a Liverpool accent. The enthusiastic crowd was enormous and included fans of every age, ranging from dancing toddlers to twisting senior citizens. Surprisingly, since their grandparents were probably the original fan base, a large number of fans were teenagers, sporting Beatles t-shirts and photo buttons of their favorite original Beatle. It was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement, joining in the singing, clapping and dancing. Not to be outdone by the old-age pensioners vigorously dancing to Twist and Shout, Luis and I even gave it a spin, but soon realized that we were out of our league.
The Beatles Maníacos cover band and its fans at the local shopping mall (photo by Luis Bastardo)