Brasil 4: Southern Pantanal in Mato Grosso do Sul

We pushed on, keen to get to the southern Pantanal, our route took us via Apucarana to Paranavai, where we called it a day and we parked at a huge and busy truckstop for the night - together with approx. 50 rigs or more. From here we drove to Novo Londrina, crossed the large Rio Paranapanema, passed over the 10km long damwall of the Usina Hidreléctrica Sergio Motta, which is a 150km long dam in the Rio Parana called Repr.Porto Primavera. All along the typical Mato Grosso do Sul cattle ranches farms accompanied us. Then we passed Nova Andradina, Deodápolis, north via Maracajú and finally camped at Seu Assis ( for Real 30 pPpN) after we had left the town of Jardim behind.  We had now reached the start of the southern Panatanal in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. At this campsite we observed a number of birds, including the beautiful bare-faced Curassows (Muitú), some Tucan Grande and smaller animals like Agoutis and Capybaras. In the evening we were surprised by the many fireflies around us. It had taken us 3660km from Montevideo to get to the start of the south Pantanal. Before proceeding to Bonito, we decided to pay a visit to the closely situated park Baraco de Araras – not quite sure what to expect. This sanctuary is a 100ha farm,which, after it was bought the owner, he discovered that 30ha of it could not be used due to a big sinkhole approx. 70m deep – it then turned out that red-white green-winged Macaws were nesting on its sheer walls. The owner decided to plant more Butiá palms, clean up the debris in the sinkhole (even some skeletons were found (a vintage Brasilia vehicle still is unrecovered and overgrown) and today there are about 30 breeding pairs and in total about 100 Macaws that have made it their home thanks to the foresight of the owner. This is worth a visit if you are in the area. Bonito is a small town entirely geared around the many tourist attractions of the area. We booked a snorkeling outing down the Sucuri river at Estancia Barra do Sucuri as well as a visit to the nearby Gruta de Laguna Azul, a grotto with a clear blue lake in it. For the night we camped at Camping Rio Formosa next to the municipal balneario – a quiet night awaited us, plenty of birds including some green-winged Macaws feeding in the wild mulberry trees as well as some Tucan Grande. An afternoon swim in the Rio Formoso cooled us down, the waters relatively clear with small fish deciding to nibble on our legs. The snorkel trip at Barra do Sucuri consisted of rowing upstream for about 1400m then snorkelling down in the clear waters while observing Dorado and other fish species. A wetsuit and booties were issued with mask and snorkel. It was enjoyable but we were told by other participants afterwards, that the Rio Prata is much clearer and the fish more plentiful and larger and we should consider visiting it as well. After we were given safety instructions, signed the customary indemnity forms and donned the hard hats, the climb down the 305 steps in the Gruta Lago Azul was quite manageable and we marvelled at the 90m deep clear and azure blue waters of the lake. For the night we camped at Balneario do Gordo a few km out of town, a little more rustic, but quite nice. Here we met the young French couple Jeremy and Sophie, whom we will probably meet again during the next months as they also intend to be in Patagonia in summer. After booking for Rio Prata in town at the dive shop, we returned to Camping Seu Assis in the afternoon as the Rio Prata snorkelling was to be quite close by. Being a Saturday night we found a few other campers and day visitors, however it remained quiet and nobody decided to party through the night. A group of locals immediately welcomed us and invited us to a typical Brasilian dinner for the night. It was a stew as the truckers often have it and tasted delicious. At 9:30 our snorkel trip at Recanto Eco Rio da Prata would start, so we left early and had luck in being able to observe a giant anteater on the way. The snorkelling down the Rio Prata was really excellent and can be recommended. After a short trip by vehicle to the forest near by, a 2km walk through forest followed with the guide, we finally reached the spring of the stream - Olho de Agua –the eye of the water, an underwater hole where this river starts. The water was crystal clear, plenty of fish and by the time the stream joined the Rio Prata, we were surrounded by large and old Dorados and many other species we did not know. Never before have we been in such clear waters, in the stream we estimated 50m visibility, or better. This trip can be strongly recommended, it is longer (about 2 hours drifting), well organised and well worth the extra money spent.       As we had to do some shopping before departing towards the northern Pantanal, we decided to camp at Pousada Peralta just outside Bonito, where we watched in the late afternoon gauchos practicing the lassoing of a calf (artificial and pulled by a motorcycle). To our surprise 3 bus-campers arrived late suddenly and we were surrounded by luxurious giants for the night. This post covers 18-24th September 2017

Brasil 3: Up the southern coast of Brasil

It really helps to have good friends in foreign places. Within 3 days after arriving in Montevideo, Uruguay, we were ready to hit the road again - thanks to Burkhard and Anke Schleicher, who have now moved closer to Montevideo onto a small holding at Atlantida,approximately 45 minutes from the international airport. During our absence Burkhard had the vehicle serviced and well looked after. I did a small modification on the electrical system so that the C-tek charger is no longer mounted permanently. We recharged all the batteries, reconnected the new auxiliary battery and Burkhard assisted with purchasing from BSE the SOA insurance for Uruguay – Seguro Obligatorio third party insurance. Most companies can only insure vehicles with local number plates (placa) –this would be a problem for us for quite a while until we found better ways. Burkhard had also completed two containers to house motorcycles for overland travellers by bike, including sleeping quarters. As always filling up the vehicle in Uruguay hurts – R18 per litre and requiring close on 210litres. Then we moved on to our other friends, Jürgen and Gisa Hecker in Punta Ballena further towards Punta del Este, where we spent another 3 days relaxing and doing the necessary shopping for the trip. We took a drive to Piriapolis, where we visited Piria's house, the founder of the town and had tea at the old hotel Argentina, also built by him as well as the church, today reduced to just ruins. The border town of Chuy was our first goal after a night’s camping in the forest of Fort Santa Teresa where we already had stayed on the downward journey. At the border we had a small hiccup – according to Brazilian customs our vehicle had never left the country the previous year when we had visited the Iguaçu falls. However, the officials were happy to see in our passports that we had left to Paraguay and rectified the omission – after some 20 minutes we could pass. Then the question arose whether we needed the Carta Verde – the obligatory third part insurance. However, at the Carta Verde office along the route to the border the lady advised she can only issue it to local vehicles and we had to go to Cambio3 in town – who in turn advised us that we should look elsewhere, they were not selling it at all. In the end we had no choice and proceeded without it, despite our best efforts. ( we were forced to travel all through Brazil without this insurance – not advisable – read in a further blog post where we dug up a company in Salta with head office in Mendoza –Argentina- where you can get cover for all the countries and arrange it via internet in advance)[search for Triunfo Seguros or Speiser Seguros -both can help] We managed to travel another 102km up to the small coastal town of Hermenegildo, where we camped at Pachuca camping, simple but clean ablutions with hot water and Wifi (Real 24 for 2 persons, approx. ZAR 100). In this area of Brazil many wind turbines are erected, during our stay on this part of the coast the wind never died down.  The sea is brown and rough and much storm damage to the holiday houses was evident along the beach. Due to the tide being very high (full moon) we decided against traveling the 200km along the beach to Rio Grande on our own. As we travelled further north inland the next day we realised that the area must have had plenty of rain – along the road all the fields were flooded, cattle grazed in the water and we saw many Capybaras on the shores of small lakes as we passed. The area was generally very clean with little rubbish along this stretch. We reached the harbour town of Rio Grande and took a tour through the city to find the jetty where we had to catch the ferry the next day. Then we made our way past large fertiliser, oil and container terminals as well as a shipyard. We had not seen THAT many large trucks for a long time waiting to be loaded and unloaded. We then drove south to the town of Cassino where we camped at the camping site Ferroviários for Real 50 (ZAR 220) and took a stroll to the beach. Heavy showers surprised us during the night and we were very happy to notice that our roof tent was still not showing any leaks after two years of usage. Next morning we waited at the ferry and were lucky to catch the 10:00 one to São José do Norte (30 minutes, Real 33.50) and continued to the North inbetween the Atlantic and Lagoa dos Patos, flat terrain with many smaller farmers. We turned down to the seaside village of Bacupari where we found a sheltered private camping site along Lago Bacupari for Real 20 pP including hot shower, Wifi and a tame Capybara named Tuketuc. It gave us a chance to feel their hairy texture and hear the grinding sound they make – barely audible and highly pitched. Moving on we decided to pass Porto Alegre, being a large city and we could not detect anything worth seeing. At Osorio we turned down towards the Atlantic – an area full of holiday park developments and water amusement parks, continued along the BR101 highway northwards and stopped for the night at the surfer town of Garopaba – at Camping Lagoamar we could not enter as there was a VW Kombi gathering, so we took a stand on the RV parking section amidst large RV all connected up. For supper we decided to walk down the windy beach and enjoyed prawns and pasta with a beer named “Eisenbahn”, which seemed to be a popular brew here beside "Bierbaum" and "Schornstein Bier". The area seems to have a number of German craft brewers. Next morning we took a trip through the little town and proceeded towards Florianópolis (called Floripa by the locals) along the highway BR1010 where a speed of 110km is permitted, however electronic radar traps abound. Floripa is a large city consisting of an industrial part on the mainland and a more residential part on the Ilha Santa Catarina - sometimes confusing to drive due to the many one way streets - a few times excited drivers coming towards us gesticulated that we were not quite observing the traffic rules. The problem was that the are no prominent signs indicating one ways  and, if lucky, there is a small arrow on the street name sign. As we realised later, this seems to be the standard signage in many countries.   In the northern suburb Canasveieras we found a quiet camping spot at Caminho do Rei, where we had hot showers, could wash some laundry but the Wifi was very slow. On Sunday we took a drive around the island Santa Catarina and frequented some of the beaches and surf spots – we particularly enjoyed the area around Praia Mocambique, as it was along the nature park Estadenal Rio de Vermelho and not developed. Many of the other beaches were all fronted by condominiums and difficult to park and to access. Returning late afternoon we decided to spent another night at Caminho de Rei Camping and it offered us a good opportunity to have a decent piece of beef on our braai. After an early breakfast and sorting the not-so-dry freshly washed clothing we ventured into the old part of Santa Catalina which really tested Karin’s navigation skills on the i-Pad – one way streets, not clearly marked, but Pocket Earth was our saviour as so often and we found parking close to the cathedral and plaza, which was dominated by an wonderful old ficus tree. From here we proceeded north past São José and Itapema on a busy highway. The number of trucks on the roads in Brazil required concentration especially in our right-hand drive vehicle. At a wonderful small town with an excellent surfer beach, Balnerario Camboriú, we got lured into a seafood restaurant – excellent and more expensive than expected (large platter for two and drinks – Real 206). No regrets, it was very good and our last opportunity to sample the local seafood as our route was now taking us inland to Blumenau, through the heartland of underwear, swimwear and leggings manufacturers – tempting placards and small shops all along the way. At Blumenau we found camping very close to the famous Oktoberfest venue at Camping Florestal, Real 50 for 2 in a lawned backyard of a business amongst some highrise buildings. Pity the little stream running past smelled of sewage, we parked closer to a wall only to realize next morning very early it was a bus depot and busses left around 5am. However, it was convenient to walk from here to Villa Germanica, which hosts the annual Oktoberfest –the biggest in Brasil. Here you can buy all paraphernalia required to look Bavarian for the occasion –beermugs, hats, Dirndl outfits, lederhosen – but hardly any German was spoken. After visiting the town centre to buy a SIM card at Vivo for our hotspot ( Real 40 for 4.8Gb per month) and to see some of the German-influenced architecture and we visited the modern cathedral. Thereafter we proceeded to Pomerode, another neat town established by German immigrants. We decided to proceed via Jaraguá do Sol and turned down to Corupa (plenty banana plantations here) where we stayed at Camping Rio Novo, in order to climb up the trail in the Reserva Battistella along 13 waterfalls (6km total) ending with the 125m high Salto Grande.

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We continued on the BR280 via Rio Negrinho, Mafra, Unio da Victória and took the gravel road to Porto Victório, along Rio Iguaçu, and then northerly to Bituruma, hilly landscapes with a lot of agriculture, finally ending in Entre Rios at hangar 03 at the little airport just outside Village 01,where we received a friendly welcome by owner Walter Milla and Karoline Heinrich. A very inviting post on i-Overlander lured us here. Walter’s crop spray airplanes are parked here and we learned that Entre Rios consists of 5 villages of the German Donauschwaben that have emigrated here and build a thriving community based on a cooperative system. When the 500 families arrived in 1950, 12-20sqm houses were built cooperatively, all the same using the Araucaria wood and every family received a 5000sqm plot with adjacent 1ha field and 100ha to be paid back. It is amazing what they have developed since – intensive agriculture with some farmers having 20000ha under crops, a very large silo storage as well as a malting works that supplies 17% of Brazil’s malt. No longer are any of the original dwellings used, they have made way to large and modern houses, a museum, hospital and administration complex. Next day Siegfried Milla, Walters father, was our host and tour guide and we visited the interesting museum as well as the memorial house of the previous co-ops president, Mathias and Elizabeth Leh. Karoline owns Brot& Café in town where you can have traditional lunch or just a cup of coffee and excellent cake. Also not to be missed is an evening at the brewery and restaurant Donau Bier!. From this community we learned that close by was a similarly successful Dutch colony and we decided it would be worth visiting Carambei. We wanted to see the Parque Historico where we were told overnighting with an RV was possible –although no baheiro (bathrooms) being a problem by night. Through our contact with Douwtje van Westering, a guide of Cooptur in Carambei, we met Dick van Geus, whose family owned the land where the historical Parque has been developed on and finally parked at a private facenda owned by Gerda van Geus and had a wonderful evening at this friendly and welcoming community. Our knowledge of Afrikaans certainly broke the ice but a number of people here also spoke German. The park also houses an interesting collection of butterflies and moths gathered over many years by Adolpho Los. If travelers are interested, contact Douwtje for a tour. Next morning we continued towards Tibagi, on the way we wanted to see a canyon in the Parque Estadual do Guartelá – closed on Mondays like many other attractions like the museum in Castrolanda – it seems Mondays all attractions are closed in this region. This blog covers 1-17th September 2017

Getting ready for our second leg in South America

  Once we reached Cape Town, the first priority was meeting family and friends locally and then, in the available 5 months, catching up with our blog. Inbetween we did a trip to Namibia for 3 weeks to see the family there and to complete some unfinished tasks in Swakopmund before returning to Cape Town to attend to the house - a few things that had been neglected during our 11 months absence. Once the flights were booked we knew that by end August we shall be back in Uruguay to continue until March 2018. Renew insurances for a year, getting finances sorted out, ensuring that our travel documents were in order and another 100 little tasks that had to be done. Dieter agreed to hold a talk at the Cape Town Photoclub for photographers interested in planning a similar journey in the future. It was impossible to give even a glimpse in the allotted 45 minutes and so we decided not to cover Argentina and Chile as we had not completed our journey there yet. This meant really sorting out some images and places of interest and the talk had very positive feedback – most visitors enjoyed getting a glimpse  from our trip. The most frequent question we had after we returned was: Which country is our favourite? We could not give a straight answer, as the countries were so diverse in landscape, fauna, flora and its people. Each of the countries we had traversed had been special in some way. Maybe the least exciting country from a travellers point of view is probably Paraguay. Although our first impressions of Uruguay were similar, it changed on our return leg – we enjoyed it much more, also for the reason that it is orderly, well functioning and with little stress to travel. Uruguay is a good country to ship a vehicle to, get started with the journey and to leave the vehicle if anybody plans to do a second visit. Uruguay allows a vehicle to be in the country for 12 months without any problems or strings attached. Bolivia is worth exploring as it offers unique places like the Salar de Uyuni, the Dali Desert, La Paz and Madidi Jungle. However, the population it is not as friendly, more bribes are being solicited by police and the military, but nothing we could not cope with or that made it really unattractive. For South African passport holders it also was the only country requiring Visa. Peru is a must. The country is diverse and beautiful, the people friendly. Macchu Picchu is worth a visit despite the fact that it must be one of the world’s busiest tourist hot spots. However, visitor traffic is well managed and did not spoil our visit. The only drawback is that Peru is probably the dirtiest country on our journey with trash and plastic dumped everywhere. Being nature conscious this somewhat worked on our nerves and the country needs to do something about it if they do not want to drown in rubbish. Ecuador is beautiful and its nature offers some special experiences – the country welcomes visitors with open arms and even has low entry requirements if foreigners wish to settle or start businesses. Clean and neat everywhere it offered a welcome change after Peru. Being able to visit Galapagos islands, which are part of Ecuador, made our time there indeed very special – Galapagos was a dream destination for us for a long time and we were not disappointed. Colombia still conjures up images of drug wars and Pablo Escobar. We never planned to visit there – everybody we met, said, we have to. And how right they were! Probably the friendliest people we have met, most welcoming to strange visitors travelling their beautiful country. Fantastic landscapes, colourful villages, birds galore and Cartagenas vibe will stay with us forever. We have seen only a part of Chile and Argentina and we shall wait until we have seen most of it before we comment – our expectations of Patagonia are high as it is supposed to be one of the worlds harshest but also most beautiful areas. We are back for the second trip and our preparations have gone well.  This blog entry is written from sitting in the comfort of the home of Jürgen and Gisa Hecker in Punta Ballena in Uruguay,just south of Punta del Este. In a day or two from now camping will be the order of the day. Our special thanks go to our friends Burkhard and Anke Schleicher in Atlantida near Montevideo, who made it possible that we could hit the road again within 3 days of arriving. Our vehicle has been serviced and all requested repairs arranged so that we can start this leg of our journey well prepared. We shall now first of all travel into Brasil, where we hope to see extraordinary animals like jaguars and many birds in the Pantanal swamp area, famous for it fauna and flora. Please excuse that there are no paragraphs in our text - WordPress still has a problem in that the text doe not appear the way we are writing it -so we decided to alternate the colours of the text.