When we stopped to appreciate the portico made of logs and multilingual that announces the beginning of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso, we left the car for what we cherished in the comforting arms of Nature.
In the middle of September, the Nature of Mato Grosso confronts us with reality. We are in one of the hottest months in these parts of South America. With half past ten in the morning behind us, it was well above 40ºC.
The sun wouldn't stay there. It evaporated much of the fresh water accumulated during the rainy season.
It aggravated the pressure cooker breath that boils us and leaves us disarmed.
From then on, small wooden bridges followed, almost without counting, over ponds and canals full of water hyacinths, highlighted by their lilac flowers, water lilies and even hyperbolic water lilies.
Each of these lakes and ponds turned out to be the habitat of competing local species.
Alligators by the hundreds. Groups of furry water pigs, socializing and keeping an eye on the threat of reptiles.
Around certain bridges, the abundance of swamp animals proved to be such that we were unable to resist further photographic stops.
Longer, more intense. Even if it already seemed impossible, even hotter.
Little by little, along the Transpantaneira, intermittently, we got used to the extreme climate.
Eco-lodge Araras, a Providential Ecological Refuge
We check into Araras Eco-Lodge with some delay. André, the owner, was leaving for a meeting in Cuiabá.
Still, he explains to us the essentials about his property and business, with an obvious focus on the environmental sustainability that Pantanal sorely lacks.
Conversation leads to conversation, André Thuronyi explains to us the genesis of his anything-but-Portuguese surname.
As he was the son of Jewish parents of Hungarian origin who were forced to flee Germany shortly after the outbreak of the 2nd World War.
How parents started their lives again Paraná, one of the Brazilian states with the largest amalgamation of immigrants from Europe.
André was born in Paraná. The fascination with the incredible ecosystems of the Pantanal and the tourist opportunities that, at a certain point, they began to generate made him move with his weapons and luggage to Mato Grosso.
The business continued from strength to strength. During those days, the inn I was exploring was fully booked.
In agreement, instead of a complete welcome, André offers us a lunch that we could already smell. He says goodbye and leaves for Cuiabá. Transpantaneira above.
He leaves us in the care of Aruã, one of the guides working at the property.
Discovering the Araras EcoLodge Pantanal
Aruã demonstrates an accent and ease consistent with the Pantanal leather hat, the ease, characteristic of someone who has long welcomed and accompanied foreigners, especially Europeans.
“You know how flat it is around here, right? That's why observation towers are special around here.
We already have two. I don't know if we'll just stick with these! Let's follow a trail that leads to the lowest point. It’s twelve meters long, but still an incredible view.” The reward of a 360º and comprehensive view of the Pantanal excites us.
To the point that neither the overwhelming heat nor the aggravated hunger could deter us.
On the way, we came across large marsh deer, the largest deer in South America, measuring up to 1m 30m tall and weighing 125kg.
We see two of them, barely or not at all concealed in a green amphibious bush, with their snouts tracking the air and large furry frames that looked more like radars.
The trail turns out to be shorter than we expected. In a flash, we find ourselves at the top of the tower. We contemplated the sodden and grassy vastness around us, dotted with a few marshy meadows where not even any bushes flourished.
Here and there, on its edges, forests of tiny trees clung to islands of real land. Right next to it, halfway up the tower, a solitary lilac ipe tree broke the dictatorship of green. “That’s a beautiful view, right?”, says Aruã, hoping for our validation.
We confirm without hesitation. Aruã uses the binoculars hanging around his neck, gilded by the sun for many years. She hits them in the eyes and resumes one of her favorite pastimes, recognizing animals.
We point out a drawback.
Like what had happened along the trail, Aruã identified all the species in English. “And what is it like in Portuguese, Aruã?” we questioned him more than once, aware that we would end up pushing him against the wall.
Curious about how he would react. ”Xiii, I only know a few in Portuguese.
The truth is that almost no Brazilian or Portuguese customers come here, it's better not to mention it. They are almost all British, German, Swiss, Austrian and so on. Little by little, I forget the names in Portuguese…”
We were approaching one in the afternoon. Leaving a traditional Pantanal lunch waiting was a mistake we didn't want to make.
It would be more wrong than approaching local specialties with gluttony and eating too much considering that the long ecolodge trail awaited us, 4km long, ending in a 25 meter tower, double panoramic.
This is a mistake that, with a rustic buffet ahead of us, we were forced to make.
Back to Transpantaneira, aimed at Poconé
Arriving at 16pm, with the sky and the atmosphere of the Pantanal already vaporous from boiling, we left the Araras Eco-lodge.
We reversed at Transpantaneira, in the direction of Poconé.
Long before we got there, we detoured from Transpantaneira, to the southeast, in search of Pousada Piuval, halfway to the large sub-pantanal in which the Bento Gomes river expands.
Along the way, we stopped, determined to photograph more alligators and a family of tuiuiús, owners of a spacious nest in which three young ones were begging for food.
We also identified a caracara scanning the surrounding area for food opportunities and shrill hyacinth macaws. Not only.
An approaching dust portends what we estimated to be one of the herds that proliferate in Mato Grosso.
Leading her, through a gate, into a fenced farm, was Diogo Batista, a cowboy protected from the sun by a white leather hat with large brims.
In other words, Sô Diogo tells us that in addition to the cattle, he was also wrapping up his already long day's work. He tells us that his horse was called Canário.
Who knows if that would be the reason for the baggy yellow polo shirt he wore over his worn jeans.
When we arrived at Pousada Piuval, the Pantanal captured us with a large incandescent ball, surrounded by a pink aura, both, lost in a heavy and leaden firmament.
Resplendent End of Day at Pousada Piuval
A resident soundtrack celebrates that work of art, with songs and chirps that disperse in the wet immensity.
Pitch eradicates the twilight festival. We took shelter in the comfort of the inn. With the dawn, everything repeats itself. In reverse order.
Ivã, Piuval's guide, invites us to take a tour around the inn, in the cold, while the cold lasts.
Without expecting it, we came across a group of roaming emus, with herds of horses and howler monkeys sharing a large bunch of bananas.
Struck on the edge of a nearby stream, with the mere wave of a branch in the water, Ivã attracts dozens of eager alligators. “And you know what? There are jaguars around here.
They come to drink from time to time, and sometimes they even watch the alligators, capybaras and even the foals on the farm. But you have to be lucky to see them.
This wetland is very vast. There are plenty of places where they can drink. And the animals they can eat.”
Embarked Exploration Around Pousada Piuval
In the afternoon, it is Ivan who guides us, in charge of revealing to us the vast fluvio-lacustrine that delimited the farm. We boarded as the only foreign passengers.
Ivan leads us through channels cut into the amphibious vegetation to the water-only core of the lagoon.
From there, it points to an island solid enough to support another of the region's precious towers.
We went up in the company of Ivan and his colleague Isonildo, surrounded by flocks of herons and cormorants.
When we return to the anchorage, as often happens in the Pantanal, the moment when sunset makes the great birds diffuse, produces magic again.
A tuiuiú flutters to the top of a treetop.
With a few adjustment steps, we register their blackened but graceful movements against the screen of the fiery firmament.
The rainy season was once again at the door.