After wallowing in the pleasure of my early morning check-out I walked toward the town center and port area. In the light of day I found Corumba to be a jungle paradise; the complete opposite of what I expected following my inauspicious arrival only hours earlier.
Narrow streets lined with royal palms, warm blue skies home for hundreds of varied species of birds, waterways full of fish including the dreaded piranha, and a small population of the friendliest people I have ever met.
One of the first that I greeted was Catu; a self praised local guide who is a born and bred swamp man and therefore the Brasilian equivalent of Crocodile Dundee. With six others we hired him; at $12 per day as our guide for a four day trip into the Pantanal by jeep. It would turn out to be one of the highlights of my five months in South America.
After a five hour drive through a swamp teeming with life we set up camp next to a small lake which at that point was a welcome sight. With hot, sticky skin, swimming became the priority of the moment.
It wasn’t until evening when we returned from fishing with a haul of 34, most of which were piranha, and darkness closed in that we noticed our little swimming pool was infested with alligators.
None too huge but then how big does an alligator need to be?
It was also pointed out to us, with a cursory glance lake side, that piranha inhabited the lake. Great information to have post-swim!
Laying in a hammock at night when all is quiet and the aquardiente fueled singing has subsided, you can shine a flashlight along the shore of the lake. The bright ruby red eyes of the Cayman alligators appear everywhere, some within just a few feet of where you lay; an amazing feeling.
The days and nights to follow were equally as amazing with Catu catching Capybara (Giant Guinea Pigs) to wrestling alligators to teaching us some of the ways of the wild.
The animals in this area are too numerous to list but the most common include armadillos, parrots, macaw, capybara, quati (similar to a possum only orange and black), snakes, toads, alligators, monkeys, tortoises, wild dogs, river otters, and occasionally you may spot an anteater. In the dry season puma also roam the area.
Fishing was a daily pastime with the easiest to catch being piranha. A fresh piece of meat with a trickle of blood would sent these ferociously efficient diners into a feeding frenzy; successfully polishing your hook to a high sheen as they removed their meal. The fervor so intense that it is almost inevitable that one of them will bite down on the hook itself and become ensnared.
It was via this method that one came to live with me.
Once hooked, opportunities for embalming were numerous. Local children offered a unique service and when your catch is returned to you it is gutted, sealed in some type of tree sap, and placed atop a pedestal.
My piranha is now celebrating its 26th birthday and has lived in 4 countries. That is him at the top of this post.
The Pantanal is second to none in its variety and number of birds with one similar to that of the emu. Another is the Jabiru. A massive bird that can stand tall at 5 feet with a wingspan of up to 9 feet. These are not birds you see every day.
One of the most extraordinary features of the Pantanal is the speed at which vegetation grows and the size to which insects grow.
Cockroaches up to 9 or 10 inches are not uncommon and fly about like bats in the night. Toads as big as footballs crowd the main street of Corumba and walking through them is akin to a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Birds”.
Two assumptions you dare not make in the Pantanal are these. Just because a plot of earth is free of foliage today does mean you should expect a similar situation to be evident tomorrow; just because a flower displays vibrant colors and a magnificent perfume-like smell, do not assume it is not a carnivore or a deadly predator.
There is plenty to harm you in the Pantanal; flora should not be dismissed without due caution.
The Pantanal is one of the worlds largest wildlife reserves and at present lies off the beaten track for most travelers throughout South America. Tourism is on the increase, as it is everywhere throughout this largely unspoiled continent. At the moment it remains an area where nature along with its animals can be observed openly without the obstruction of dense jungle like that found in the Amazon region and more importantly, without the destructive interference of man.
To read how I got here read Brazilian Death Train