(Part of a series of articles by Fi trawling the archives for photos taken on the tiny compact camera way back when).
Moving on far, far west, almost meeting the Bolivian border, we stopped at Campo Grande to try arrange a trip to the Pantanal or Bonito. In contrast to Rio, Campo Grande seemed decidedly backwards but that is most probably an unfair description. It’s just a strange place to be for a non-Portuguese speaker, especially when you arrive on a public holiday. The bizarre hotel we were staying in was rather grim but did have amusing holes in the wall next to the air-con unit (maybe to make it even cooler by drawing in the outside air & mozzies?) and those fantastic electrical features we came to love in South America such as the electrocuting shower, wired into the mains and unearthed. Nice. Safe! As a bonus, the hotel did keep up with the amazing Brazilian tradition of cake at breakfast. Yes cake. At one place we actually had hot gooey chocolate fudge cake! Here we had a good selection of 10 – 15 to choose from alongside the usual fruit & cereal. Still, this was not a good enough reason to stay and soon we were on our way to Bonito.
Bonito quite literally means beautiful or pretty and we had heard from a few Brazilians that this was the place to go for natural beauty. Most of the sites are only accessible via a guide and our first outing consisted of a 50km trip down dirt tracks, followed by a quick change into wetsuits. We then had a couple of km to trek through rain-forest. Not normally a challenge but when dressed in a wet-suit, in rain-forest with mid 30’s temperatures and no water to drink it gets a bit sticky. And all this to float down a sedentary running river. Admittedly we’d already been a little bit spoiled, we’d dived with sharks, rays, turtles and all manner of beautiful fish on all trip. The Rio de Prata is renowned for being crystal clear and that it was, but after 5 minutes of snorkelling passed the same looking fish we were starting to question what we were doing. That was until we passed a baby alligator basking, half submerged just 5 feet away from us. As a baby it was still a good 1.5m long. That’s big enough for me. He seemed pretty chilled out but I did seem somewhat exposed as the last person in the group as we floated off further downstream past some overhead monkeys jumping through the trees. The river remains so clear due to restrictions on visitors touching the bottom with their feet. To reduce disturbances with the sediment your not really encouraged to swim, only float – makes for a pretty lazy afternoon really!
The following day we set off early to Gruta do Lago Azul, The Blue Lake Grotto, one of the largest flooded cavities in the world. After walking and climbing deep into the cave you start to see the blue waters glimmering through stalactites. The closer you get the bluer the water becomes. While we had no idea what the guide was saying, this was definitely the highlight of Bonito as it was such a surreal site to see hidden away miles from anywhere.
Sadly, by the time we left Brazil we were glad to see the back of it. After a scamming stopover in Corumba which resulted in a long day queuing at the border to Bolivia and then many more wasted hours (thanks to said scam) in the sweltering train station we started our journey on ‘the death train’ from Quijarro to Santa Cruz. Within hours it was living up to its name as we derailed…….