Friday, August 20, 2010

The Pantanal, Brazil, Piranhas, Caiman and

Piranha waiting to be filleted in the Pantanal...hopefully, teeth removal is first (photo by Luis Bastardo)

On our last day in The Pantanal, we opted for the horseback riding and piranha fishing excursions, in that order. Unfortunately, we  couldn't combine the activities, which in my opinion, would have made for a much more interesting excursion. Instead, we saddled up at the horse ranch in the morning since it was supposedly easier to catch piranhas in the late afternoon or early evening. I haven't been on a horse since I was in my 20s, back in the first century, so that fact, combined with my height-challenged status, made it a little awkward trying to even get my foot in the stirrup, much less mount the horse. With the help of the wildly amused guides, I managed it eventually though and off we traipsed in a line of horses on yet another wildlife safari, this time through the wetlands.     

        My horse deciding in the middle of the swamp that he'd walked enough for one day (photo by Luis Bastardo)

We slowly rode through open fields filled with swooping wood storks and herons, shallow wetlands with caiman watching us cautiously from under the roots of mangroves, and groves of tall, bare trees with squawking scarlet macaws high in the branches. The horses, of course, had walked this trail hundreds of times and were used to inexperienced riders, but they also seemed to have a sense of humor, stopping in the middle of swamps for no apparent reason or suddenly breaking into a gallop just to scare the hell out of their newbie riders. Interestingly, the entire ride, I was closely followed by a very young Brazilian girl (she still had braces on her teeth) on horseback. She was very sweet and chatty and I supposed that she wanted to practice her English and have some female company for a change. She was sharing a room with a much older pale, balding, overweight German man on a business trip. Being as naive as I am, I thought they were just an  oddly matched couple traveling together, but the guides laughed when I asked if they were married and replied "well, for the next three days they are!" Apparently, another optional activity at the lodge was renting a young woman for a few days so you had something to do between piranha fishing excursions. I read later that Brazil has now surpassed Thailand as the up and coming (sorry...) sexual tourism destination. The business has moved to Brazil, in part, because of new, stricter laws governing the Thai sex trade. I guess sexotourism will always thrive somewhere in the world...  

          Luis trying to catch a piranha before the alligators below his feet beat him to it (photo by Simone Cannon)

After lunch, we left the lodge to find a good place to go piranha fishing. In the late afternoon, we finally found a spot on the river that the guide said was teeming with piranhas. Unfortunately, it was also teeming with caiman, who had the same idea that we had, as well as snagging any leftover bait that the guides threw their way. The guide joked that if we didn't catch anything, we wouldn't eat that night, and after an hour I could tell it was going to be granola bars for dinner. A few people, including Luis, caught some fish, but I didn't even get a nibble. Finally, between us, we at least had enough for a hearty appetizer, which the cook fried up for us when we returned to the lodge. We ended the evening by taking one last sunset trip to watch the birds returning in noisy droves to nest in the trees before dark. As the sun set in beautiful shades of pink and violet, they flew over our heads in large swarming flocks, thousands of them filling the evening sky with the sound of their different calls and songs. What better way to leave the Pantanal?     

      Luis just a little too excited about the fruits of his labor (photo by Simone Cannon)

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