Thursday, December 6, 2007

Beloved nature

We have been missing nature in Salvador. We hadnt’n known how much we lacked it until we came to a vast green region of Pantanal. It is the biggest wetland in the world. Half of the year the area of 230.000 km2 (half the size of France) is flooded and the rest of the year the area turns to a large savanna. The scarcely populated region is nothing else but nature and wildlife. It’s one of the most important ecosystems on the planet, full of alligators, anacondas, savanna mammals, jaguars, immense variety of birds, and fresh water fish.
We went there at the end of the dry season, which means dry land, few ponds and low rivers, where all the animals gather to get the food. It also means less rain, less mosquitos and easier trips. In comparison to a jungle adventure, in Pantanal it is much easier to spot animals due to its vast open areas, whereas in the jungle the view is hindered by generous vegetation.
The timing was perfect and weather was excellent. Luck was, as always, with us. We got help from a nice university professor and got arranged a half priced tour to the wilderness.
A previous day’s rain had made the road to pass into a safari adventure, full of muddy holes. We couldn’t imagine how it becomes in the peak of rainy season. But in the middle of nowhere a luxurious guesthouse with all the facilities welcomed us. It was hard to believe that such high standards exist deep inside the swamp area. It was in the 70’s when the government decided to connect all the remote cities with roads and power. After they have built 145 km of dusty road in Pantanal, they made a wise decision of stopping for lack of funds and ecological concerns. What is left today is a dirt road “Transpantaneira” with scenic view, sectioned by 118 small wooden bridges and hundreds of dust holes.
Living in such a remote place meant eating local food, sharing the room with frogs and waking up with thousands of loud birds. We indeed had the chance to see so many different animals, that we got amazed by every new species we encountered. Local people co live in harmony with all those animals. It was nothing unusual to see a farmer cultivating his piece of land and only meters away hundreds of alligators resting peacefully in a nearby pond. The alligators are not at all aggressive, they attack only if threatened. By the law it has been prohibited to hunt them, so in present days they live freely in the whole region. However, unfortunately some illegal hunting exists and is difficult to pursue. The regional diet consists mainly of fish, rice, fruits and root fruits. Raising cattle is the only farming activity as the drained land is poor of nutrition.
On our trips by boat, on horse, on foot or safari truck we admired plentiful of animals from close by: tarantulas, snakes, alligators, deer, monkeys, colorful birds, otters, owls, hawks, fish, piranhas, storks, capybaras, … We haven’t seen any anaconda though. They tend to be seen in the rainy season when it is easier to spot them in the water. Jaguars as well as pumas are quite common inhabitants of the region, but very difficult to see.
Early mornings were the best opportunity to observe the wildlife in its pure behavior. We walked silently down the river and spotted many mammals waking up or birds taking their breakfast. In overall, we were left amazed by the natural beauty of Pantanal.

In the state of Mato Grosso we also visited another type of landscape. It is a high plateau with the Canyon of Guimaraes, with lots of small waterfalls and varying terrain. It is home to the king vulture, a huge and attractive bird. We spent the whole day wandering around alone, taking baths in small fresh ponds and exploring our so beloved nature.