Tag Archive: Corumbá

Sunday Travel Tales

We’re leaving Cusco this week and going back to Brazil. During the week I found a photo that I thought was lost. I have been recovering some 13,000 images from a broken HD, and there it was, although some similar photos have not surfaced.

Meet Alan


Alan is a Jacré de Papo Amarelo (Black Paraguayan Cayman), he was rather a decent size, about three metres.

This story is from 1996 and amongst my first experiences in the Pantanal.

This dinosaur-like reptile lived in the lagoon beside the camp. There were plenty of his species to keep him company but they all stayed respectfully on the far side of the lagoon, it was only Alan who preferred the company of tourists. He was very photogenic.

Alan was a placid sort, lying in the sun on the grassy sandy bank.

My first meeting with the beast was after a swim in the lagoon. I had not been forewarned of his residence, merely that the others stayed over there. After my dip, I lay on the bank to dry off. It was while I was lying there in the sun, I felt a presence close by. Turning my head and opening my eyes, expecting to see another tourist, I was instead face to face, as it were with Alan who had likewise come to bask in the sun a little more than a metre away. Now for our American cousins, a metre is 3″ more than a yard; it doesn’t matter whether you use metres or yards, IT WAS TOO FREAKIN’ CLOSE!

Avoiding a blood curdling scream, which was my first thought, I managed to inch away without disturbing my neighbour until I had put enough distance between us and was able to summon up the courage to RUN!

I learned that Alan often did this. He was not menacing the tourists, he was quite a happy cayman, if indeed you can measure a reptile in degrees of happiness. Alan was never hungry because he ate the scraps from the kitchen, so he was never considered a threat to the tourists. Cayman only bite for two reasons, they are hungry, which Alan wasn’t, or you piss them off.

The guide showed me by laying close to Alan and draping an arm across his shoulders. Alan didn’t even blink.

Tourists often used to ask me why he was called Alan, was he male? I didn’t know, in fact no one in the camp knew. I always suggested that if the tourist wanted to know, was he/she brave enough to lift his tail to find out…

It remains a mystery to me to this date; for I never met a tourist brave enough.

I went for many trip to this campsite that year,  Alan was always there. The campsite was deep into the Necolândia region of the Pantanal, about six or seven hours from Corumbá on the Bolivian border. It is a beautiful place, one of the most beautiful I have ever been to.

Sadly the Pantanal is shrinking, the climate is changing just like the rest of the world. But also in 1996 a project called Hydrovia was responsible for ‘straightening out’ the kinks of the Paraguay River. It was these kinks that slowed the drainage, now the drainage is much faster and the water that created the Pantanal is diminishing. Progress has claimed another victim.

Sunday Travel Tales

One of my favourite places in South America is the Pantanal, unfortunately it is also the favourite place of half South America’s mosquitoes. But, really that is a minor point; you can defend yourself.

Buraco das Piranhas, that’s all there is; not exactly a comfort stop

For backpackers, there are two points of entry to the Pantanal, one from Campo Grande and the other from Corumbá. The Campo Grande trip is the longer because you bus from CGR to a Policia Florestal station at Buraco das Piranhas. Now I have never seen piranhas there, but mosquitoes like you wouldn’t believe. Transport from the camp meets you there, if you are lucky both will arrive at the same time, if not, you enjoy the company of mosquitoes until it arrives. Then you are faced with a six hour drive into the camp. The Corumbá entry is easier, the transport which is a Toyota truck leaves from the city and takes the same six hours to camp.

Now you have seen one

Once you leave Passo de Lontra (CGR trip) or Ladário (Corumbá trip) civilisation stops. The road is dirt punctuated with lots of potholes; in the rainy season, it is mud punctuated with puddles. The bridges have to be seen to be believed.

During the trip you will see lots of wildlife, apart from the birds, you’ll see capivara, black Paraguayan caiman at every turn. You may be lucky enough to see deer, anteaters and an anaconda. Birds, the most magnificent is the Tuiuiu (Jabiru stork), but many parrot species and toucans as well. So it’s not just a boring trip over a bumpy road.

Curva do Leque, the fork in the road. Behind is Corumbá, to the right the road to Passo da Lontra, to the left Estrada da Boiadeira

Half way into the camp you pass a fork in the road. The place is called Curva do Leque.

A quick pitstop, yes there is a shop at Curva do Leque.

And off down Estrada da Boiadeira (Cattle Drive Road). It goes nowhere, it’s eventually a dead end (I know, I have been there) it passes many of the fazendas (cattle farms) and one of them São Joaquim is where the campsite is.

The campsites are basic, the most basic level of basic. If you are used to five star hotels, don’t even think about these camps. Personally, I think they are wonderful.

Basic camp

This is one of the better camps, most don’t have permanent structures.

Morning view across the camp, worth the discomfort

In the photo you can see one of the many campões, they are islands of dense bush high enough so they don’t usually get flooded. It is here that you find many birds, and where we hunt for wild honey. Exploring these campões further from the camp, it is possible that you will be tracked by onça (jaguar), I have been several times when taking groups for nature walks; crossing our tracks to find jaguar paw prints on top of ours. In all my time in the Pantanal, I have only ever seen one and that was at a distance of about 400 metres.

A baby bat that had fallen on to the shoulder of a tourist

Tourists get the chance to fish for piranhas, which we cook for supper and generally experience the chance to commune with nature.

It is a time when the unexpected can happen; like this small bat fell on to a tourist and found safety clinging to her T-shirt.

Insects, like butterflies, bugs and beetles are common.

Brilliantly coloured butterflies are common

While I have seen many of these, I have never been able to identify this one, any help appreciated.

As well as the exotic Blue Morpho Butterfly (Morpho menelaus)

Blue Morpho Butterfly (Morpho menelaus)

Lots and lots of jacaré (caiman)

Sucuri (ananconda)

Capivara, the world’s biggest rodent


Image: dondeandoporai

You can check out Wandering Educators for some more brilliant photos

The uncropped photos and the butterflies are mine, sorry, I was lazy tonight.

Sunday Travel Tales

Looking over Corumbá and the Pantanal River


Close to the border with Bolivia in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Not exactly a tourist town, but I like it. I have passed through many times and lived there for short periods. Although while I was living there I spent a lot of time in the Pantanal and not so much in the city.

For most travelers Corumbá is either the arrival, if coming from Bolivia, or the departure if going there.

Tren de la muerte to Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Bolivia is just 8 kms (5 miles) away. Across the frontier you have Arroyo Concepción and immigration, then Puerto Quijarro and the Tren de la muerte (the Death Train) that will take you to Santa Cruz de la Sierra a supposed 19 hours away (I have been on that train the longest for 30 hours). Few people stay in Puerto Quijarro, last time I was there it only had a few modest hospedajes (cheap rooms), an albergue (hostal) and one decent hotel, the Colonial, which wouldn’t really qualify for a star rating, but is the classiest hotel around. Most travelers stay in Corumbá and only cross the frontier on the day of travel; arrival is the same, head straight to Brazil after the train.

A camp kitchen, to think now that I used to cook in this...

Corumbá is probably the best place to take a tour into the Pantanal. Agencies offering backpacker camps abound and offer trips to campsites in the Necholândia region. The camps are basic, but tolerable for the two or three days you are there and the guides all spoke adequate English, many spoke Hebrew as well.

But the camps and guides gave you a good chance to see the wide variety of flora and fauna of the region. The Pantanal has more species of birds than anywhere else on the planet.

As you can see the surrounding are less than salubrious, but we never had a case of food poisoning. This is called roughing it, and we never advertised otherwise.

From the river looking to the city

The water front of Corumbá was a nice place to sit and have a beer in the shade of the several kiosks there.

Boats lined up along the port

There were also many boats of varying size to take river cruises. I went on one once, but the chance of getting a good look at the wildlife was far more limited than the land-based camps.

Forte Coimbra

The city itself has little to offer the tourist, although there are some fine hotels and all manner of smaller cheaper ones as well a hostals. Apart from the Panatal, the only major tourist attraction is the Forte Coimbra, built at the end of the 17th century, which played a decisive part in major battles during the Paraguay War.

The other main attraction is for the sports fisherman.

Corumbá has changed a lot since I was last there. Bow there is a bridge over the Rio Paraguay; in my time we had to cross the river, buses and all, on a barge. Times change, don’t we all?

So there you have it, a little about a place that I once called home.

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