Added 3 September 2006
Day 6: Sunday, June 11, 2006
After going to bed early, I got a good nights sleep, and woke up feeling much better. Tentatively, I thought that perhaps I might have whipped whatever it was that ailed me. Still, I had to skip breakfast in order to do the packing that I opted not to do the night before. Chuck and Dave got some food from the hotel breakfast though, and I had that. I even had somewhat of an appetite for it. I'd hardly eaten a thing for days, so probably really needed some nourishment and calories.
We spent most of the day traveling from Belo Horizonte to the Hotel Baizinha in the Pantanal. Most of the journey was rather uneventful, and even the part that could have been more eventful wasn't for me because I spent most of the drive from Cuiabá to Cáceres with my eyes closed trying to get a little more rest to aid my recovery from whatever bug I got.
Relaxing on the two plus hour drive wasn't easy. Much of the road was good, but randomly located along the road would be stretches of pavement that were horribly potholed. The further we got from Cuiabá, the more frequent and more severe the potholes became, slowing us down considerably. We arrived in Cáceres and the Rio Paraguai (Paraguay River) at around four o'clock, which was later than planned. We still had a two-hour boat ride ahead of us. As soon as we got to the boat ramp, I headed to the restroom, and by the time I got out, nearly all of my bags had already been wrapped in plastic bags due too the threat of rain and had been loaded on the boat, so I couldn't get my warm clothes out from my bag. I probably should have taken the time to find my bag and get my warm clothes, but it was already getting pretty late in the day, and I didn't want to put us further behind schedule.
The boat was an open cockpit bass-type boat, and traveling at high speed down the river to the hotel would prove to be a chilly experience. I wasn't horribly cold, but I was concerned that stressing my body might allow the virus that I was beating to get a second wind. Shan was certainly colder than I, despite having warmer clothes. She ended up using the rain gear provided on the boat to help shield her from the wind. I eventually did the same, at about the same time that I had Shan sit down on the floor of the boat to get her down out of the wind, which helped her out a lot.
The boat ride itself was pretty interesting. The first part of the journey was through a populated area and we passed many people fishing in the river. Many of the people were living in run-down shacks near the banks of the river. It felt mildly awkward to be racing by them in our relatively nice boat. A number of folks waved as we went by though, so apparently they didn't feel the same way. Our boat driver, whose nickname was Indio because he was Indian, took us through what I suspect were some short-cuts, as I know that the Rio Paraguai is navigable by large boats, and there were short sections where he had to slow down because the river was shallow and he had to be careful not to damage the prop on the boat. When we returned to the main river channel, he let the boat fly. We continued on as the sun set and darkness descended. Before dark, we passed an old ranch, which momentarily got our hopes up.
After an hour and a half or so, it was pretty dark, and when we saw a light ahead of us, we thought it was finally the hotel. It turned out to be a barge carrying soybeans down river to Argentina. We then began to think that we would never arrive at the hotel, but not long after the barge, we saw a red beacon that the lodge had erected. The lodge was definitely a welcome sight! (It was dark when we arrived, so the pictures below were taken throughout our stay at the hotel.)
Johnny and another member of the hotel staff was at the dock when we pulled up, awaiting our arrival. As we were getting out of the boat, Shan almost fell over backwards out of the boat. Fortunately, Johnny caught her arm and steadied her, but the drama queen had made her point, "Pay attention to ME!!" :-)
At the hotel, we met Lucia, who I think is the owner of the hotel, or at least plays a big part in it. The hotel was really nice, and it turned out that we were the only guests there. We would remain the only guests during our entire stay there. It was like having our own private resort. The rooms were basic, but quite nice, and very spacious. Like many hotels in Brazil, the shower was the heated showerhead kind that Shan discovered she wasn't too fond of. In order to get a really hot shower, it is usually necessary to reduce the flow of water so that the in-head heater can keep up.
After we had settled in, we joined everyone in the common area for our first bowl of piranha soup, which is salty, but very good. We had piranha soup every evening before dinner, and we missed it when we finally moved from Hotel Baizinha. We were attended to by Johnny, who provided us perhaps the best service I have ever received. He was always there to make sure we had a drink if we wanted one, or to take away used glasses, plates, etc.
Before arriving in the Pantanal, Fabricio warned us that our chances of seeing jaguar were not as high as they would normally be this time of year, because the water level in the river was higher than normal, reducing the number and size of beaches, where jaguar like to hunt. As we boated to Hotel Baizinha, he noted that the water level had dropped quite a bit in recent weeks, which meant for better conditions for spotting jaguar. One can never be assured of seeing jaguar in the wild (far from it!), but our hopes were raised a bit by the lower than expected water level.
After chatting over piranha soup, we moved into the dinning room for a delicious dinner. Fresh fish was served almost every night, and the food was delicious, even if often slightly too salty for my tastes. After dinner, we retired to our rooms to rest and get ready to experience the wonderful world of the Pantanal.
Species list for the day:
I didn't keep track of what we saw today.