Finally, it was my turn to go to the Pantanal. I had missed two opportunities earlier in the year due primarily to my fractured tibia and ankle bone which rendered the journey unsafe and impractical. So wait I did, patiently while other volunteers ventured out to see the largest wetlands in the world. Yes, my time had come and I was ready to see if the Pantanal lived up to its reputation. And it did, offering so much more. I must confess that it is not for the tame at heart or those who go green at long. boat journeys.
But then you may consider that to be a small price to pay when compared to spotting an alligator or two, catching a piranha for dinner, discovering birds so large you may think of Pterodactylus, and if you are lucky enough you might even get to see an anaconda. In a nutshell, that is the Pantanal´s wild side.
But there is more, the human element. I was so blessed to have spent two nights with a local farming family whose pace and quality of life inspired me anew and resonated with my contemplative side which longs for a slower pace of life, simplicity and periods of solitude. On arriving, I had joked about sleeping in a ´hede´ and to my surprised at bedtime, our hosts produced a hammock so I could sleep under the most magnificent starry sky I have ever seen. While I consider myself to be a huge fan of nature, without doubt, the highlight, actually that should be pluralised, the highlights of my experience in the Pantanal was the time spent with the farming community – playing guitar late into the night accompanying the host on the concertina, while throwing back rounds of local pinga and capirinhas: sitting around the fire at 5.30 next morning sharing in the communal cup of hot herbal mate tea; joining in and providing music at the baptismal mass celebration of six babies; receiving the sacrament of reconciliation in this Garden of Eden; being in fellowship with several other farming families who traveled for hours to join us in the mass celebration and festa.
Yes I was genuinely surprised at how akin I felt during my short time in the Pantanal. I look forward to my return.
For three weeks in April, every student at CAIJ had the exciting opportunity to visit (some more than once) the local natural history museum, Estação Natureza Pantanal in downtown Corumbá. I made the trip five times to accompany different groups of students and came away more knowledgeable and appreciative of what this region has to offer. We learned about the Pantanal’s flora and fauna, the history of the Pantanal region, its main sources of water and how its conservation of water, plants and wildlife are integral to this region’s future. Of course the wildlife was a big hit with everyone, especially the birds which to my surprise students were able to identify and name with ease. And why not, sighting of these beautiful creatures can be a daily occurrence. This is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Corumbá or visiting the Pantanal. I look forward with excitement to my trip into this wetland in the next couple of months…more to come on this blog.
Here are some photos of our visit to two remote parishes along the Brazilian/Bolivian border. We accompanied Padre Pascal on a 35km trek by car traveling on single track dirt roads through farm lands in the drier part of the Pantanal.
The parish of Sao Paulo (photo at right) is located on a farm and during the mass we could see cows and horses wondering by, not forgetting those pesky mosquitoes that kept us busy swatting throughout the service.
I particularly liked the Black Madonna statue and ceramic cross on the wall behind the simple altar.
These parishioners live a very simple life and some travel for miles to attend this monthly service.
This is the parish of Santa Lucia in the village of Borracharia.
I must admit that living this close to the Bolivian border had set my imagination alight with endless possibilities of taking a few side trips and exploring what that country had to offer. So when the offer came to visit the nearby town of Puerto Suarez to do a bit of shopping (I had been told this is a much cheaper option than Corumbá), I jumped at the chance. I even dressed for the occasion instead of the weather which was a big mistake upon reflection as the day turned out to be another scorcher. On my shopping list, a belt to hold up all my trousers and skirts which are now two sizes too small, some toiletries and a backpack (muchila).
Our mini-adventure began with the 10 minute journey to border control where we witnessed heavily armed police and crowded queues of people trying to get into the immigration control office to enter Brazil. Once we crossed without too much fuss, paid our toll charge on the Bolivian side, my first impressions did a head long collision with my imagined thoughts of Bolivia. It was so dry and dusty that we had to wind up our windows despite the sweltering heat.
But thank God, this did not last too long. We meandered through the town and made our way on to a single carriageway, Camino a Santiago de Chiquitos, that provided beautiful vistas of the Pantanal. The Bolivian portion is about 10% of the total area of the Pantanal and only 350 metres above sea level but it has a high concentration of flora and fauna.
I was grateful for the mini-stops we made at the eco-tourism viewing gallery, one of the town’s unique churches with its hand-carved doors illustrating the main stories in the bible, and of course the super mercado where all the prices were in Bolivianos and we had to divide by three convert the prices to $Reais. I will let the photos help with the story. Enjoy!